Montana News

Feb 22, 2013 11:09 PM by Angela Douglas - MTN News

Montana law enforcement, lawmakers work to prevent child abuse

BILLINGS - In 2012 Montana Child and Family Services investigated 8,648 reports of child abuse statewide. More than 2,000 of those investigations indicated that abuse did occur.

In that same year, more than 300 youth in Yellowstone County were in need of care. A major spike from 185 cases in 2011.

Child Abuse happens in different forms: physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. 80-percent of the Montana's child abuse cases in 2012 were neglect.

"Kids being exposed to methamphetamine, parents that leave them, kids starving, kids freezing, kids abused. Horrific things and we see it day in and day out," said Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito. "When you prosecute those cases you start thinking about this. 'This doesn't make sense, this doesn't seem fair to this child, to this family to have to go through this.'"

Because of this, county attorneys statewide are fighting for stricter child abuse laws this legislative session.

Within that package of child abuse bills presented to the legislature:
House Bill 74 - would require full disclosure of child abuse or neglect records to law enforcement and child welfare entities.
House Bill 433 - would close loopholes regarding registration of sexual and violent offenders
Senate Bill 160 - would create the offense of criminal child endangerment
Senate Bill 113 - would allow evidence in other crimes in prosecution of sexual offenders
Senate Bill 198 - would revise laws related to penalties for assault on a minor

"Right now in the state of Montana, the penalty for that, if you hurt a young child is five years. We don't think that's enough," said Twito. "Especially if you hurt someone that little. Someone so little and precious and unable to protect themselves. We think the penalty should be greater."

In addition to harsher laws, programs have also been installed to help prevent child abuse from occurring in the first place. Within the past year, Yellowstone County launched the Nurse-Family Partnership, a home visitation program that focuses on "at-risk" families. Nationwide studies show the partnership has been able to cut abuse and neglect among at-risk kids nearly in half.

"That public health nurse goes into the home and works with those parents on a wide variety of different things to help them prepare to be new parents and then also stays with the family until the child is 2-years-old," explained Montana Child and Family Services Administrator Sarah Corbally.

Punishments and programs are both necessary in preventing child abuse, but in order to raise awareness the community needs to speak up.

"Until or unless someone calls us, we don't have the ability or the authority to conduct an investigation," said Corbally.

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