Consultation Available for Difficult Child Protection Cases

Program will give caseworkers clinical insight and recommendations, allow them to discuss challenges

By Associated Press

HELENA — Montana Child and Family Services caseworkers have a new resource to access expert advice in cases where children have experienced extreme trauma, Gov. Steve Bullock announced Thursday.

The Department of Public Health and Human Services is partnering with Billings Clinic and a program within the University of Montana School of Social Work to hold monthly video conferences offering education and feedback from national experts on child trauma. The training sessions include at least one case discussion.

Health department director Sheila Hogan said the pilot program will give caseworkers clinical insight and recommendations while allowing them to discuss the challenges they face and learn from each other to better help kids.

“Ultimately, the goal is to utilize the group’s collective expertise to make meaningful recommendations for caseworkers who work on these very complex cases daily,” Hogan said.

The collaboration is made possible by a video-based mentoring platform used by Billings Clinic to reach clinicians across the state on a variety of topics. UM’s Center for Children, Families and Workforce Development helps with an agenda, technical help and ongoing training and mentoring for caseworkers.

The effort will help caseworkers recognize and better understand the mental health impacts of the trauma the children have experienced, said Jeff Folsom with the UM Center.

Dr. Eric Arzubi, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Billings Clinic, offered to provide Project ECHO’s video platform and access to national experts to the state agency, Hogan said.

“I’m just really grateful that we’re able to have this level of expertise in the child protection services system,” Hogan said.

The first 90-minute session was held in February, and more than 100 people joined the second session Thursday, she said.

“It’s key that we understand clinically what might be happening with children who have experienced trauma,” Mariela Herrera, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Billings Clinic, said in a statement. “By sharing information and ideas we’ll be able to provide valuable clinical insight that could help more children stay home and out of foster care, or help expedite getting those in foster care home more quickly. We may also be able to identify gaps in the child protection system.”

The program’s effectiveness will be evaluated after six months, Hogan said.

Project ECHO also offers video conferences for providers statewide on topics such as addictions treatment within the Department of Corrections, opioid addiction treatment and mental health treatment.

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