Top Administrator in Montana Child Protection Services Resigns

Sarah Corbally will leave her job in April, becoming the second high-ranking administrator to leave since November

By Molly Priddy
Child and Family Services in Kalispell on Sept. 21, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The administrator for Montana’s Child and Family Services Division has announced her pending resignation.

Sarah Corbally will step down from the division’s top spot in April to pursue a career in law.

“I’m excited to do something else and for a new phase in my career,” Corbally said in an interview with the Beacon. “I’ll be going back to the practice of law.”

The Child and Family Services Division is a branch of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, and works with children who are abused, neglected, or abandoned.

Corbally started as the division’s administrator in 2011, having worked for DPHHS for a total of about six years.

“This is a real loss for DPHHS, but she is destined to do great things in the next phase of her life. No one works harder or is more passionate about protecting Montana’s children from abuse and neglect than Sarah. Her strong voice of support for children has always been second to none, and is highly respected among all the key stakeholders,” DPHHS director Richard Opper said in a prepared statement.

The Child and Family Services Division (CFSD) came under scrutiny last year after a group of grandparents toured the state protesting its offices due to lack of services and child-placement issues. Then, in Kalispell, it came to light that only three full-time employees were staffing an office with the workload for 15 positions, leading to questions about the high-turnover rate and the negative impact it has on children and families in CFSD services.

Last September, Gov. Steve Bullock announced the new Protect Montana Kids Initiative, part of which was the creation of a 14-person commission tasked at examining the child protection system and recommending the policies and practices that could improve the system. The commission has since heard from family groups and foster kids regarding the current systems in place.

In October, CFSD field services supervisor Cory Costello was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into “allegations.” Her last day with the department was Nov. 27, 2015.

Not long after Costello was placed on leave, an audit of the division reported that it needs to strengthen supervision, have better documentation, and complete more investigations within the time frame required by law.

It has been Corbally’s position that if the division had enough resources, many of the problems the audit spotted could be fixed.

Corbally said her resignation is about moving on in her own career and not a response to any of the pressure or turmoil. Those are to be expected when taking this job, she said.

“Honestly, when I took this job and I left being a lawyer, I decided I would probably do it for five to seven years. It’s been six years, and I’m really ready to go back to law,” Corbally said.

She said she hopes there is ongoing support for her division, because there are more and more children needing its services each year.

“It’s important work,” she said.

DPHHS spokesperson Jon Ebelt said the department has started the process of finding and hiring a new division administrator.