As of the end of February, more than 3,000 Montana children were in the state foster care system, the first time the number has climbed over the 3,000 mark, and double 2008’s 1,500 level.
According to a report from the Associated Press, the amount of abuse and neglect cases in Montana’s district courts has skyrocketed, with 2,300 cases in 2015 compared to 1,600 in 2014.
In the Flathead, there are 161 children in foster care, according to statistics from the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. The need for more foster parents is immediate and constant, advocates say.
With that in mind, Child Bridge, a nonprofit organization based in Bigfork that finds and supports foster and adoptive families for Montana children, will host the Empowered to Connect conference on April 8-9.
The conference is part of a nationwide telecast originating in Memphis, Tennessee, and is designed to help anyone who works or interacts with children to better understand childhood trauma and how it affects the brain, attachment, and effective methods for behavioral change.
Dr. Karyn Purvis, director of the TCU Institute of Child Development and coauthor of the best-selling book, “The Connected Child,” will head the conference. Amanda Hiles Howard, assistant professor of psychology at Samford University, and Daren Jones and Henry Milton of the Institute of Child Development will join Purvis on the speaker panel.
Aaron Scofield, Child Bridge’s community director, said the conference is designed to “help bring healing into children’s lives,” and is for foster and adoptive parents, those interested in becoming foster and/or adoptive parents, biological parents, child welfare and social workers, teachers, church ministry leaders, and more.
“It’s for anybody who spends time with kids,” Scofield said. “And it’s very much for those considering fostering.”
The conference will take place over two days and will include 16 hours of expert training, lunch, snacks, and course materials. It can qualify as Continuing Education Credits for social workers or those working in early childhood fields.
All told, the two-day conference costs $20 with everything but CEC included, Scofield said. Everyone who attends and finishes the conference will receive a completion certificate.
The simulcast will also be broadcast in Missoula and Billings.
Child Bridge serves as a support and education system for those already in the foster system and for those considering taking part. As a faith-based ministry, it is not an adoption or placement agency, but instead works with the state and youth organizations to help bridge the gap in support and funding using the “natural infrastructure of the church.”
“We don’t do any of the vetting, we leave that to the state,” Scofield said. “We just simply pull them in and we maintain contact with them.”
Scofield said the organization, which was founded by Steve and Mary Bryan of Bigfork, may be faith based and work closely with local congregations, but a certain faith system is not required to get involved.
“In our nonprofit, we serve people who are of faith or not of faith,” he said.
When considering the need for more foster families, Scofield reflected on the most-recent numbers of kids in the system, noting that the current statistic of 3,019 is considerably higher than the 2,600 kids in the system this time last year.
He encouraged those who may be interested or are already fostering or have adopted to check out the conference as a way to better connect with the children already in their lives, and potentially the children they may welcome into their homes in the future. More help means less burden on an already overloaded child protection system.
“We want to support the state in everything we do,” Scofield said.
For more information or to register for the Empowered to Connect conference, visit www.childbridgemontana.org/empowered-to-connect.html.
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