At the end of March, Yellowstone County had 108 more children in foster care than it did at the same time last year — 386 compared with 278.
Volunteer organizations and professionals who work protecting children attribute a good share of the blame to a resurgence of methamphetamine use.
According to numbers provided by the Montana Child and Family Services Division, parental drug use was a factor in nearly 69 percent of foster placements in Yellowstone County, up from 60 percent for March 2012.
The percentage of cases involving meth rose from 34.9 percent in March 2012 to 48.3 percent by March 2013.
Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Corbit Harrington said the rate of removals has nearly doubled over last year.
"I don't know what it is, but we've always liked our methamphetamine in Yellowstone County," Harrington said.
Yellowstone County is far from alone in its renewed struggle with meth, although the number of children removed from meth-scarred homes outpaces the state average by 8 percent.
While numbers statewide are not as discouraging as those in Yellowstone County, they are climbing at a significant rate. State figures show that as of mid-April, 1,933 children were in foster care in Montana — 1,134 of them because of drug use in their homes. That’s about 59 percent. Meth was a factor in 42 percent of the drug cases.
“We have a record number of court filings in a number of locations,” said Sarah Corbally, administrator of Montana’s Child and Family Services Division. “The system is feeling very strained. It’s not a system where you can turn people away.”
The nature of the caseload has also changed considerably in a short time.
Two years ago, alcohol reigned as the most identifiable factor in removing children from parental custody. It accounted for 52.4 percent of cases statewide, while meth was a factor in 28.6 percent of cases.
Statistics for 2013 at the end of March showed alcohol losing ground to meth. Forty-one percent of cases had alcohol as a contributing factor, while meth had grown to 41.5 percent of cases.