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Montana lawmakers to study how courts handle child abuse cases

A gavel and scale of justice.

Montana lawmakers have formed a working group to study two pilot programs that change how courts handle child abuse and neglect cases.

Since 2010, Montana has seen a steady rise in the number of children placed in foster care. Policymakers want to know both why that is the case and how to prevent a continued strain on the foster care system.

Yellowstone County District Court created one of the pilot programs, called the Emergency Protective Services court. It allows parents of children removed from home to see a judge within 72 hours.

Under current law, it can take up to 20 days for an initial hearing to be scheduled.

The second pilot program has been used in several counties and requires a preliminary conversation between parents, state investigators, attorneys on both sides and court appointed advocates in cases of child abuse and neglect.

The goal is to have a neutral mediator help all parties involved decide what’s in the child’s best interest.

The new working group will consist of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, state health leaders, a judge, a district attorney and a public defender, among other experts. They plan to hold their first meeting in mid-October.

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