The Child and Family Services Division (CFSD) is a part of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Keeping Children Safe and Families Strong
To protect children who have been or are at substantial risk of abuse, neglect or abandonment. We strive to assure that all children have a family who will protect them from harm. We recognize the protective capacities of families and incorporate them in assessments, decision making and actions with the goal of improving safety, permanency and well being for children. We encourage our communities to strengthen their prevention efforts and to share responsibility for the safety of its children and families.
The division provides state and federally mandated protective services to children who are abused, neglected, or abandoned. This includes receiving and investigating reports of child abuse and neglect, working to prevent domestic violence, helping families to stay together or reunite, and finding placements in foster or adoptive homes.
The division operates a toll-free child abuse hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Centralized Intake specialists screen calls, assess the level of risk to children, and prioritize reports of abuse, neglect, and abandonment according to the urgency with which social workers need to respond. The specialists forward reports of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment to social workers in county offices for investigation.
Social workers investigate reports and help parents find solutions to problems that may interfere with their children's safety. If the parents are amenable, the social workers can help the family get in-home services , such as home management skill training, parenting education classes, modeling skills for parents, and supervised visitations. These can be provided directly by CFSD social workers or by private agencies on contract with the division. Division policy is to provide protective services to children in their own homes when it is possible to do so without risking their safety.
To help family members become involved in addressing the care and safety of their children, the division uses Family Group Decision-making Meetings. These meetings bring together family, friends, social workers, and service providers to share concerns, knowledge, and skills. They can be used throughout the child protective process-as a way to prevent removal of a child from the home, after the child is in foster care, to document family progress in improving the home setting, and to help identify permanent placements for a child.
If a social worker determines that a child is in immediate danger, the child may be placed outside the home, either permanently or temporarily. District court judges must approve all out-of-home placements.
Kinship care involves placing the child, whenever possible, with an extended family member, clan member, or tribal member. It provides the child with a safe and nurturing environment while preserving a family connection. When an out-of-home placement is necessary, social workers are required to first try to place the child with a non-custodial birth parent or with a member of the child's extended family.
Under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, CFSD must do its best to place Indian children in settings that encourage connections with their tribal heritage. The act also requires that the child's tribe and parents get notice of all judicial proceedings.
CFSD family resource specialists recruit and license foster parents to provide substitute homes for children placed away from their parents or guardians. Foster care includes family foster care, group homes, shelter care, and residential facilities.
CFSD also licenses specialized and therapeutic family foster homes for children with special needs and child placement agencies, such as adoption agencies.
Ideally, the division tries to help improve parents' abilities to care for their children so that children who have been removed from their homes can return as soon as possible. Reunification services include Family Group Decision-making Meetings, counseling, parenting education classes, in-home services, mentoring, respite care, supervised visits, and transportation.
If a court determines that a child cannot be returned to birth or legal parents, a permanency team reviews the child's circumstances and identifies whether adoption, guardianship, placement with a relative, or another living arrangement is the best option.
Adoption is generally the permanency plan of choice when a court terminates parental rights, because adoption offers a child a lifetime link to a family. CFSD administers a subsidized adoption program for children with special needs.
Guardianship is an alternative when adoption is not considered to be the best option. Guardianship is a legal relationship that can only be established or dissolved by a court.
For children ages 16 to 21 who are making the transition from foster care to independent living, CFSD offers a number of services, including housing assistance, counseling, career guidance, education, transportation, money management skills, and financial stipends.