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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Gov. Bullock Announces Reforms To Protect Abused And Neglected Kids

Gov. Steve Bullock. File Photo
Christopher B. Allen
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Governor Steve Bullock today said he’s taking action where the state legislature chose not to, to reform the state’s system for protecting abused and neglected children.

Bullock visited the Providence First Step Resource Center in Missoula to make the announcement, visiting with staff who are often the first to evaluate children who’ve been abused or neglected. Kids who are often assigned to case workers with the state Division of Child Protective Services.

"It’s a responsibility, from my perspective, that for too long the state doesn't always fully live up to. For decades our child Family Services system has been underfunded and over burdened. Staff in this agency have unmanageable caseloads. And requests to really systematically address this have often fallen on deaf ears in the legislature," Bullock said.

Today Bullock announced that he’s authorized hiring 33 additional social workers for Child Protective Services. He also established a new 9-member commission to review Montana’s laws and systems for protecting abused and neglected children, charging it with making recommendations for the 2017 legislature.

The Governor’s initiative mirrors legislation proposed this year by Missoula Democratic Representative Kim Dudik.

"I was actually successful in getting this through the House, we had enough bipartisan support. Unfortunately when it when to the Senate Finance and Claims committee it just didn't seem to be a priority and they killed it in that committee. There wasn't really any explanation of why that happened, but it just wasn’t a priority that they wanted to fund," said Dudik.
 
Money to hire additional social workers will come from House Bill 2, which funds numerous state agencies. That bill didn’t authorize the new positions specifically, but the Governor’s staff says they found ways to make the hires, and the job openings are now posted.

Bullock’s initiative also sets aside $1.5 million to upgrade the state’s case management software.

See more about the Protect Montana Kids Initiative here.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.