The Children, Families, Health, and Human Services Interim Committee began its study of the child protective services system in September by hearing a comprehensive presentation about how the state determines whether a child is at risk for abuse or neglect and should be removed from home.

Ike Jessee of the Department of Public Health and Human Services walked members through the steps the agency uses to investigate and resolve reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. Jessee, a trainer for the Child and Family Services Division, discussed:

    •    how reports are prioritized for investigation;
    •    how caseworkers assess the child's safety and the family's overall functioning;
    •    the criteria for safety and protection plans; and
    •    the development of the conditions that must be met for a removed child to return home.

The presentation laid the foundation for the committee's work over the next year on two studies approved by the Legislature. House Joint Resolution 48 asked for a study of ways to support families involved in the child protective services system. HJR 49 asked for a review of the impacts that abuse and neglect cases have on law enforcement and the courts.

Montana Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Gustafson discussed efforts being made to speed up and streamline handling of the cases, including the use of prehearing conferences in some counties and a new pilot project in Yellowstone County that will link parents more quickly to the types of treatment they need to complete before their children return home.

The committee also:

    •        started work on its HJR 50 study of the DPHHS Senior and Long-Term Care Division by hearing information from Division Administrator Barb Smith about the three home and community-based services programs funded through Medicaid;

    •    received an update on DPHHS activities from Director Sheila Hogan; and

    •    heard a a recap of the testimony by proponents and opponents to Senate Bill 202 from the 2019 legislative session. That bill, which failed, would have adopted a 2017 uniform guardianship law that was developed by a national commission. The Legislative Council asked the committee to review that uniform law over the interim. 
The committee will meet next on Nov. 14-15 in Billings.

The Legislative News.