MT Working To Reduce Child Abuse

.jpg photo of Montana State Capital
Montana State Capital

Bill to reduce Child Abuse introduced to panel

Great Falls, MT  –  A bill introduced to the state House Human Service Committee on Wednesday night looks to install a five-year plan that would address the growing child abuse and neglect issue statewide.

Kimberly Dudik, D-Missoula, is sponsoring HB 517, which would require the Department of Public Health and Human Services to form a strategic plan by Aug. 15, 2018.  That plan would work to reduce child abuse and neglect statewide over a five-year period.

Dudik told the Tribune while the DPHHS already works to alleviate child abuse and neglect, it has never had a plan mandated by the state Legislature.

“Oklahoma has had such a plan but we haven’t seen it in Montana,” she said.  “This is geared at having the Legislature say we would like a strategic plan in place to develop this.”

Numbers Dudik used in support of the bill showed child abuse and neglect cases taking leaps in the last six years: 1,030 cases in 2010 jumping to 2,433 in 2016.  In Cascade County alone, child abuse and neglect cases climbed from 112 in 2009 to 386 in 2015.

Simultaneously, 230 children were removed from homes in meth-related cases in 2010, compared to 1,050 in 2016.

Dudik said much of the growth in abuse and neglect cases is directly attributed to growing drug use in the state.

“We’ve really got to get a handle on this in our state to help the next generations of kids growing up here,” she said.

As well as mitigating the factors that cause child abuse and neglect, the plan would look at factors specific to both urban, rural and reservation areas within Montana to quantify cases and attempt to project the case numbers in years ahead.  The plan would also examine the effects of abuse and neglect on children, families and society, as well has the developmental issues abuse and neglect leaves on children.

The plan would bring several agencies together in order to compile the information, including the Montana children’s trust fund, state advisory council for child and family services, the governor’s Montana Kids Commission, tribal communities, juvenile courts, law enforcement and others.

Laura Smith, deputy director of the DPHHS, said the bill would mandate agencies come together for the plan.

“This brings really unique expertise to the table and breaks down silos on a critical issue,” she said before the committee.

Representatives from the U.S. Supreme Court, Montana Association of Christians, Montana Protect Kids Commission and a youth services organizations also testified in support of the bill.  No opponents spoke against it.

Currently, the fiscal note attached to the bill requests $18,000 in total expenditures to develop the plan, although Dudik on Wednesday said that number may change.  Dudik told the Tribune Thursday that the number is adjustable to the funding appropriated to the DPHHS this year, and the plan will likely be developed if the bill is amended to request no funding at all.

“It was depending on how much of their funding was going to be cut, but some of it was restored,” Dudik said.  “Nonetheless, (Smith) is confident the DPHHS can do this within the time frame given to them.”

Smith confirmed this in her testimony Wednesday night.

“It is important and we will make it a priority,” Smith told the committee.

If the measure passes, the DPHHS would deliver the plan to the children, families, health and human services interim committee and the legislative finance committee prior to the 2019 session.

The House Human Services committee will look to take executive action in the coming weeks.  The next hearing is not yet scheduled.