Montana is among the best states in the nation at finding finding families for kids who have had to be removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect, according to a new study.
A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says Montana places 90% of such children in family settings - such as foster families or actual kin - compared to a national average of 84%.
About 10 states did a little better, peaking out at 94%, according to the report, "Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success" - which used 2013 data.
"In some states, they have a high percentage of children who are placed into more group facilities or residential treatment facilities that aren't structured like a family," said Sarah Corbally, administrator of Child and Family Services.
"And so in Montana we do a good job of placing children with foster families whether that be kinship families (in which the child is an actual relative or has a pre-existing relationship with the family) and/or a foster family," she added.
Corbally said the state's performance is likely to improve further, thanks to initiatives in the department. Those include an Intensive Services Unit of child protection workers with specialized training designed to help them find permanent placements for children in the group settings.
Corbally credited child protection workers for working hard to find families and engage with them to find placements.
"I think we also have providers who work well us so that when children do require a higher level of care that's not a family placement, once they've gotten the treatment and the services they need, when they're ready to transition into a family, then they're ready, willing and able to help our workers make that transition successful."
The foundation study says nearly 57,000 kids (about one in seven in the states' child welfare systems) are in group environments. Of those, 40% have no mental health, behavioral or medical issue that would merit a restrictive setting. And group settings cost seven to 10 times as much as family settings.
In the Northwest, Idaho, Washington and Oregon all had slightly more success than Montana in placing kids with families. In Montana, more than 1,000 children are removed from their homes each year because of abuse or neglect.