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State program aims to keep children from needing foster care

State health officials have announced a plan to put more money toward preventing children from entering the foster care system.

The state has historically used federal dollars to provide services to children and families already inside the foster care system. Now, the state is accessing more federal funds for a program aimed at preventing kids from ever getting separated from their families.

Erica Johnston with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services says health officials will identify families who could benefit through investigating calls to child services.

“You’re going to get these outside supports. They’re going to come into your home and teach you how to engage and interact with your child differently based on you and your child.”

Johnston says providers will deliver mental health and substance abuse treatment and help parents develop skills to handle emotional and social issues their child may be experiencing.

Johnston says the state has already been providing some of these services, but an increase in federal funding will significantly increase the number of families that can be served.

These services are part of the state health department’s overall goal to reduce the number of children in foster care. After increasing sharply over the last decade, the foster care population has decreased by 1,000 kids since 2018, according to the agency.