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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Monday Hearing To Address MT's Overwhelming Child Abuse Caseload

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
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Officials say the number of child abuse and neglect cases in Montana is overwhelming state agencies in charge of handling them. A legislative committee that oversees the Division of Child and Family Services is meeting in Helena on Monday.

“The Child and Family Services Division has been underfunded and overburdened for, really decades,” said Ali Bovingdon, Gov. Steve Bullock's deputy chief of staff. She's also on the Protect Kids Commission that Bullock created in September.

Over 15,000 reports of alleged child abuse or neglect were filed during fiscal year 2014. About half of those reports required investigation. 

According to the audit summary of child abuse and neglect cases in the state, over 70 percent of investigations reviewed were not completed on time.

A state audit of those investigations found that, “The Department of Public Health and Human Services needs to address inconsistent documentation, limited supervisory oversight, and a lack of management information related to child abuse and neglect reports.”

“That is part of what this commission will be looking in terms of resources necessary to really allow the department to meet those statutory timelines," Bovingdon said. "And like I said, number one priority is making sure we have the resources to make sure that we are keeping kids safe.”

Bovingdon will give an update on the commission’s work Monday to the legislature’s Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee. She said the state has seen a 75 percent increase of kids in foster care over the past 8 years. And over that same time supportive funding has declined.

The audit report of child abuse and neglect found that the number of children in care has fluctuated but remained fairly static the past 10 years.

The audit also found that while the number of reported cases has increased the past 5 years, the number of reports investigated has generally decreased over the same time period.

Corin Cates-Carney is the news director at Montana Public Radio. He joined MTPR in 2015 and is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism.
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