As Montana lawmakers look to find ways to trim state spending amid a budget shortfall, officials who oversee the state’s foster care system say they need more money to keep up with their rising workload.
Montana’s Department of Health and Human Services expects the number of kids in foster care to continue growing in coming years, to the point where they’re asking lawmakers to add more than $16 million to their $76 million budget.
While Montana receives some federal funds to support its child and family services, the budget increase would still require state lawmakers to approve more than 10 million dollars out of the state's general fund, to be spent over the next two years.
According to a report released by the Protect Montana Kids Commission, which was created by Governor Steve Bullock in 2015, the number of kids in foster care in Montana has increased 111 percent, in the last 8 years.
Bob Runkel with DPHHS says the department isn’t sure of all the reasons why caseloads for foster kids is increasing, but he says meth use is one reason.
“It is often found to be the case that at lease drug use is one of the factors that leads to the decision that calls for a removal of a child,” he says.
Runkel, and other DPHHS leaders, testified Wednesday during the start of two days of hearings on the budget of the department’s Child and Family Services Division.
As a bipartisan group of lawmakers consider the amount of funding to give the health department, six bills are moving through the House and Senate aimed at improving the state’s foster care system.
So far, one of those bills, which would increase the transparency of information within the Child and Family Services Division, has moved out of committee and is awaiting a vote on the senate floor.