Safety of Montana children at risk

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Over the past two years, 28 children have died since coming to the attention of Montana’s Child and Family Services Division. This is a shocking and unacceptable statistic that needs an explanation.

These children, many of them just babies younger than a year old, were victims of abuse and neglect that landed them in the Child Protective Services system. But where was the protection, the safety net, for these tiny souls?

We may get some answers as a new panel probes these deaths and the state agency responsible for helping these abused children. The Child Abuse and Neglect Review Commission, believed to be the first in the United States with the power to investigate in-depth into how these deaths happened, met last week to begin its work, according to a Helena Independent-Record report. State lawmakers set up the special commission last year amid frustration over such a high death count.

Of the 14 deaths reported from mid-December 2016 to mid-December 2017, 10 were children age 1 or younger, according to the Independent-Record. Two children who died were ages 1 to 3 and two were ages 4 to17. Eight were girls, six were boys. Nine were white, four were American Indian and one was black.

The report further noted six criminal charges resulting from the 14 fatalities in the past year.

The commission is under the gun to get its work done promptly. It has until August to write a plan outlining ways to reduce abuse and neglect over five years.

Another potential remedy is a new initiative just announced by the state Department of Public Health and Human Services that aims to reduce child fatalities through dedicated in-home visits and targeted help for children and families deemed high-risk. That program will be rolled out in the coming months.

Nothing can bring these precious 28 children back, but we’re hopeful this new commission will have the tools it needs to expose the deficiencies of Child Protective Services.

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