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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

State Health Officials Seek Funding Boost Following Spike In Foster Care Cases

Montana Child and Family Services sign in Helena, MT.
Bree Zender

State health officials say Montana needs to continue a boost in funding to deal with the heavy caseload in the foster child system.

The increasing number of children entering Montana’s foster care system is stabilizing after a spike in recent years, according to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

However, department leaders asked lawmakers Tuesday to extend a funding uptick for the agency that was approved in 2017 to meet the current need in the state’s child protection system.

Marti Vining is the administrator for Child and Family Services Division.

"I’m concerned by the numbers of reports that include allegations of severe chronic substance abuse, domestic violence, and severe mental health issues."

Vining says parental substance abuse is the leading reason for the department to separate a child and a parent, at 65 percent of all cases.

According to analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Division, the agency that oversees the state’s foster care system is requesting just under a 20 percent increase in its general fund budget appropriation.

DPHHS is asking lawmakers to approve moving 18 job positions into division that handles foster care cases and to allow a bump in overtime for the system that runs 24-hours a day.

There are roughly 3,900 kids in foster care in Montana, according new report from DPHHS. That’s about 400 more kids in the system than when lawmakers met during the 2017 regular legislative session. Since then, DPHHS Director Shelia Hogan says state investments have paid off and the growth rate of kids entering the system is flattening, while the number of kids exiting the system is increasing.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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