After six months of study, state lawmakers are set to debate a draft bill this week that could bring significant reforms to Montana’s child welfare system — changes some lawmakers and legal observers say are long overdue.
The bill, drafted by Rep. Danny Tenenbaum, D-Missoula, has been under development by the bipartisan Children, Families, Health, and Human Services Interim Committee since May. If the committee advances the bill at its Friday meeting, it will be introduced for official consideration during the upcoming 2023 Legislature.
Montana has one of the highest rates of youth in foster care in the country. According to the most recent data, from 2020, Montana reported 15 per 1,000 children in foster care, a figure three times the national average.
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In its current form, the bill would require Child Protective Service caseworkers to obtain a judge’s warrant in most instances before removing a child from their home. The bill would also mandate legal representation for all children in abuse and neglect cases, narrow the removal criteria for “neglect,” and shorten deadlines for some family court proceedings.
State law currently does not require CPS caseworkers or county attorneys