Gov. Appoints Commission to Examine Child Protection System

The commission must report its recommended changes to the governor by March 31

By Dillon Tabish

HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock has appointed 14 people to examine the state’s child protection system and recommend ways the agency can improve its ability to protect children from abuse and neglect.

Bullock met in July with counselors and the families of some children involved with child protective services who sought wholesale changes within the agency. They complained that they were disrespected by caseworkers, the agency ignored the recommendations of some counselors and workers seemed to lack training.

The families and counselors have testified before the Legislature and have picketed at several Child and Family Services offices around the state.

Bullock issued an executive order in September creating the Protect Montana Kids Commission in response to their concerns.

Those named to the commission on Friday include Sarah Corbally, the administrator of the Montana Child and Family Services Division of the state health department.

Other public employees on the commission include Scott Darkenwald, deputy director of the Department of Justice; District Judge Leslie Halligan of Missoula; Bullock’s deputy chief of staff Ali Bovingdon; Chief Public Defender Bill Hooks; Deputy Flathead County Attorney Ann Lawrence and Bart Klika, assistant professor at the University of Montana School of Social Work.

A private attorney who is a child welfare specialist, a pediatrician, the executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Montana and a mental health therapist on the Flathead Indian Reservation are also on the commission.

The group is tasked with examining the child protection system and recommending policies, practices and services to improve the system.

The commission must report its recommended changes to the governor by March 31 so his office and the Department of Public Health and Human Services can prepare a package of bills to present to the 2017 Montana Legislature.

Also in September, Bullock announced the state would hire 33 aides to caseworkers, offer more training and upgrade the computer system used by caseworkers. It also created a critical incident review team within the division to review incidents of serious child injury or death and, based on those findings, make recommendations for immediate improvement.