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Parental drug abuse is a factor in two out of every three child neglect and abuse cases in Montana, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

While opioids (including heroin and prescription drugs like Oxycontin and fentanyl) are the most deadly epidemic nationwide, Montana continues to suffer severely from methamphetamine addiction. The children of addicts suffer the most.

DPHHS analyzed the statewide foster care caseload in July and found that:

  • Among 3,300 foster children then in placements, parental drug abuse was a factor for 2,195.
  • In July 2008, there were 1,408 Montana children in foster placements; in July 2017, the number had skyrocketed to 3,300.
  • In July 2008, 315 foster placements involved parental meth use, in July 2017, the number was 1,490 children.
  • In July 2017, other drugs that factored in children’s foster placements included abuse of alcohol in 323 cases, marijuana in 366, prescription drugs in 247, heroin in 32, cocaine in 18, Ecstasy in seven, inhalants in two. The exact drug of parental abuse was unknown in 164 cases.

Last week, the number of Montana kids in foster care, including placements with relatives, had grown to 3,932, including 810 in Yellowstone County.

570 neglected kids

As last week ended, the Yellowstone County Attorney’s office had filed its 570th child protection case of the year. With a week of 2017 remaining, child abuse and neglect filings had increased from 531 children in 2016 and 417 in 2015.

Among the cuts made in the November special legislative session was discontinuing contracts in Billings, Missoula and Helena for housing addicted moms with their children. In Billings, Second Chance Home, a program of the Center for Children and Families, has been sheltering eight families at a time. Second Chance Home provides safety and supervision for the children while their mothers are drug tested, participate in local addiction treatment programs, find jobs and, eventually, their own housing.

It’s a great model that kept children safe while sparing them the trauma of being separated from their mothers.

Waiting for treatment

Meanwhile, access to treatment is hindered by federal law that keeps Medicaid from paying for addiction treatment delivered in a facility with more than 16 patient beds. Billings is fortunate to have Rimrock, a private, nonprofit addiction treatment organization. Rimrock operates a 42-bed treatment center in the medical corridor, where 20 beds were unoccupied last week and available for immediate admissions. However, most people needing addiction treatment have no way of paying, except through Medicaid, and Medicaid won’t pay for treatment in a facility with more than 16 beds.

Rimrock also operates 10 smaller residential addiction treatment programs in houses around Billings. Last week, there were 98 women and 68 men on the waiting list for those Medicaid-eligible slots. The waiting women include some who are pregnant and others with young children.

To reverse the growth trend in child abuse and neglect, our communities and our state really need to figure out how to get addicted parents into effective treatment fast. One obvious fix is to do away with the 16-bed Medicaid limit. Sen. Jon Tester is already a cosponsor on a bipartisan Senate bill that would remove that treatment barrier. Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte should support the bill, too.

In Montana, the cumbersome state licensing process exacerbates the shortage of addiction counselors and other mental health care professionals. The Montana Department of Commerce should step up to fix the bottleneck.

It shouldn’t take another year of study, another commission or another election to smooth the state licensing process for well-qualified professionals or to ditch the federal 16-bed rule. Let’s start correcting these easily fixable glitches now. Montana’s children shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

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