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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Lawmakers Consider Loan Repayment Program To Retain Foster Child Caseworkers

Montana Capitol building.
Nick Mott
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol building.

State lawmakers are considering a million dollar loan repayment program to try to retain foster child caseworkers. Turnover is about 30 percent a year in these high-stress positions in Montana’s overburdened foster care system.

The number of kids in foster care in Montana roughly doubled over the last decade. Billings Republican Rep. Eric Moore says that’s been hard on the social services workforce.

“One thing that we’ve seen is a classic problem within the department is turnover within its child protection services. The people who care for the least among us.”

Moore, the chair of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, says there is data suggesting retention of workers within the child protection system has improved in recent years, but 14 percent of current positions remain empty. So he’s proposing a new education loan payment program to attract and keep workers.

House Bill 339 would allow qualifying child protection specialist workers to apply for up to $12,000 in higher education loan repayment assistance if they stay in their positions for three or more years.

Current state job postings list child protection specialists' starting pay between $34,600 and $43,300 dollars a year.

The proposed legislation is modeled on a law that gives similar loan assistance to teachers who work in difficult-to-hire areas of the state.

The House Administration Committee did immediately vote on the bill following its first hearing, Wednesday.

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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