This past week Montana Governor Steve Bullock announced a plan to improve child protection and child welfare services. The announcement comes against a backdrop of increasing state foster care numbers and a threat by HHS to cut-off CAPTA funds if the state does not come into compliance with that law’s federal requirements on disclosure of information as it relates to child fatalities.
The Governor’s announcement of increased resources and staff hiring comes against what the Governor described as a 75 percent increase in foster care placements over the past eight years (65 percent over five years). The Governor’s initiative, “Protect Montana Kids” is in response to increased cases involving drug and alcohol abuse by parents.
The initiative comes after an August 13, letter issued by Children’s Bureau Commissioner Joo Yeung Chang informing the state that they could lose their CAPTA state grant funds unless they amend their laws to meet the required disclosure requirements when it comes to child fatalities. The disclosure requirements have been on the books for years with the latest changes through CAPTA enacted in 2010. The letter was disclosed by the AP and reported by them (Feds Warns Montana It Faces Cutoff Of Abuse Program Funding ) on August 26, 2015.
The challenge for the Bureau and Montana is that CAPTA funding has become so small that the state of Montana receives only $120,000 a year to carry out the various CAPTA child protection and prevention initiatives. The AP reports that the state’s total child welfare budget is $70 million. The Montana legislature is not scheduled to meet again until 2017 and the cost of a special session of the legislature to come into CAPTA compliance would be more than the loss of federal child protection funding.
CAPTA funding, now at less than $26 million a year for all states and territories, is small enough when allocated that it provides 13 states with less funding than the salary of a member of Congress. Recognizing the limited legislative schedule, the Bureau letter directed Montana to come into compliance by 2017 with certain actions indicating the state’s intent before 2017.
CAPTA is due for reauthorization this current fiscal year (2015) and that target will not be met. More likely its reauthorization will be impacted by the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities recommendations which are expected early next year. CAPTA was most recently amended by Congress this year to add state mandates regarding the screening and training regarding sex trafficking victims. In recent years Congress has subjected CAPTA to the across-the-board sequestration cuts with those cuts later embedded into the final appropriations enacted as part of the 2014-2015 final appropriations. CAPTA state grant funds peaked in 2004 under President George W Bush when it received an increase to approximately $30 million.
The Montana Governor’s plan would hire 33 more staff at child advocacy centers across the state in an effort to reduce caseloads. The legislation would not be taken up until 2017 with the Governor setting up a commission to look at the issue over the next year.