Montana State Legislature

HJRs 48 & 49: Child Protective Services

The committee decided in June 2019 to carry out two different study resolutions relating to child protective services as a combined study. House Joint Resolution 48 requested a study of ways to support families involved in the child protect services system and reduce the number of children removed from their homes for suspected child abuse or neglect. House Joint Resolution 49 requested a study of the role of law enforcement and the courts in the child protective services system.

The committee began its work on the study at its September 2019 meeting by hearing an in-depth presentation by the Department of Public Health and Human Services. The agency detailed how it investigates reports of suspected abuse and neglect, determines whether a child will be safe if left in the home or must be removed because of the potential for harm, and develops the conditions that must be met for a child to return home if removal occurs. Members also heard from Montana Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Gustafson about efforts underway in some district courts to improve the handling of abuse and neglect cases and resolve them more quickly. 

At its November meeting, the committee heard from stakeholders representing district judges, county attorneys, public defenders, and court-appointed special advocates about caseloads and their effects on the Yellowstone County district courts. They also heard about  a planned Yellowstone County pilot project to hold initial hearings within 72 hours of a child's removal from the home. 

In January, members heard from a panel of parents and others about ways in which the department could support families who are involved in the child protective services system. Representatives of the Office of the Child and Family Ombudsman discussed the role of the office and provided the committee with the annual report of the office's activities in 2019. And speakers provided a high-level introduction to the Family First Prevention Services Act in preparation for a more detailed presentation in March about the work DPHHS has done so far to prepare for implementation of the federal law. 

The committee canceled its March meeting due to the COVID-19 public health emergency and members instead heard in May about the work DPHHS is doing on the Family First Act. They also heard about the work of the Kinship Navigator Program that serves as a resource to relatives and others providing foster care. 

Members agreed that the 2021 Legislature is unlikely to consider sweeping changes to the child protective services system because legislators will probably be dealing with budget issues caused by the COVID-19 situation. However, they agreed to review a bill draft in June that would require a judge to hold a hearing within 72 hours of a child's removal from the home to determine if continued removal is warranted. Members will take public comment on the bill draft in June before deciding whether to pursue it as a committee bill.

Study Materials

 

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