Sheila Hogan, the director of the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services, announced the agency’s new First Years Initiative.
Hogan said in a press release that the First Years Initiative will focus on providing targeted resources, education, and services during the early critical period in the lives of children and their parents—pregnancy, the weeks and months after birth, and extending through the first years of a child's life.
The goal is to reduce child abuse, neglect, and deaths in Montana through issue- specific early education, prevention, and services. It is the culmination of reviewing child deaths reported to the Child & Family Ombudsman during the most recent reporting period.
Hogan says that 10 out of 14 deaths involved children under the age of one.
"When I came on board at DPPHS, my top priority was to keep kids and families safe in Montana,” said Hogan. "Through this Initiative, we will take tangible steps by focusing on early intervention and education, with the goal of preventing tragedy before it strikes."
The Initiative will roll out in stages, starting first with a new Home Visiting collaboration between Child & Family Services Division (CFSD) and the Family and Community Health Bureau of the Department’s Public Health & Safety Division. The goal of this home visiting collaboration is to provide a more comprehensive approach to child safety and family preservation and reunification.
DPHHS plans to fund through a federal grant a total of five Home Visitors who will be exclusively dedicated to CFSD cases. These Home Visitors will be housed within the current infrastructure of the statewide federally-funded home visiting program.
Child protection specialists workers will collaborate closely with their local Home Visitor counterpart to provide increased services and support for high-risk families. This will involve a collaboration and referral process in which families that come into contact with CFSD are connected with home visiting, with an enhanced focus on those at highest risk.
In support of this collaboration, in the coming weeks, meetings will take place among DPHHS staff, local health officers, and home visiting teams in counties across the state, to begin developing plans to provide additional home visiting resources to identified high-risk families.
According to the Children’s Bureau of the US Department of Health & Human Services, during the fiscal year 2015, there were 683,000 children who were victims of abuse and neglect in the US and 1,680 children died as a result of abuse and neglect.
There are numerous studies showing the effectiveness of home visiting programs decreasing child abuse and neglect. One of the largest studies, commissioned by Congress in 2016, “Within Our Reach: A National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities,” demonstrated that early childhood home visitation services had the most promise in preventing child fatalities and have already been proven to reduce the incidence of childhood abuse and neglect.
Home visiting services support healthy pregnancy outcomes, child health and development, and strong parent-child relationships. Professional, trained home visitors partner with parents or parents-to-be to engage in early intervention on a wide range of issues a family may face—from health and safety risks, to mental health, domestic violence, drug/alcohol abuse and barriers to community resources.
The four home visiting models in Montana are evidence-based, which means that research shows they have positive outcomes for families. The models include the following programs: "Parents as Teachers;" "Nurse-Family Partnership;" “SafeCare” and "Family Spirit", which is a culturally focused home visiting program to promote optimal health and wellbeing for entire families including parents and their children.
DPHHS will also be partnering with community partners as well, such as Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies.
The home visiting project is the inaugural installment of the First Years Initiative, which will include a total of three focused projects in the coming year, and a new public-private partnership with the Montana Healthcare Foundation that will focus on prenatal and postpartum care for women with substance use disorders. The Initiative and component projects are based on ongoing DPHHS research and data related to risks and dangers to children in Montana.
The next installment will include a planned proposal to the newly formed Fatality Review Commission to partner in a public education campaign. The Fatality Review Commission was the recommendation of Governor Steve Bullock's Protect Montana Kids Commission, and was established through legislation in the 2017 Session.