What you can do to help abused and neglected kids in MT

This month, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, is almost over. The Missoulian’s been featuring a series on the topic for the past several weeks, and today we published our own entry. Hopefully, it’s at least as helpful as some of the other columns written by the experts on child abuse prevention in western Montana.

The editorial is aimed at encouraging people to at least get started thinking about the hurt children in our community and how to help them. To consider becoming a foster family or a court-appointed special advocate, or perhaps lending some volunteer time, extra household supplies or monetary donations to one of the several organizations that provide support to families at risk.

The long-term aim is to stop the cycle of abuse and give children the best possible start in life. The immediate result is making a real difference in the life of a kid, right here in Montana, who needs to know that he’s not alone.

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Missoula couple named Foster Parents of the Year

Wow, congratulations – and thank you – to Kim and Tyson Moore. The Missoula couple are this year’s Montana Foster Parents of the Year.  So if you see them around town with their kids – they have two bio kids, a foster kid and are adopting a 1-year-old foster child – give them a round of applause.

Another Missoulian you’ll want to applaud: Cori Stern, who is being given the CASA Volunteer of the Year award.

Read on for more details on the awards ceremony this Monday, as well as the full list of Montanans receiving awards for their work preventing child abuse and neglect:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Get fired up about foster care with dinner and a documentary

The new documentary from Missoula producer Matt Anderson and Missoula filmmaker Paige Williams is a must-see. It’s called “From Place to Place.” I watched it last night and was incredibly moved by the stories of these young adults making their way in Missoula after aging out the foster care system.

Then I read Joe Nickell’s story about the documentary in this morning’s Entertainer and was moved again by the story of how this film came to be.

One of the things I really like about the documentary is that it ends with different people in the film directly telling us what we can do to help repair a badly broken situation: We can watch out for the kids in our neighborhood; we can check in on all our extended family members to make sure everyone’s accounted for; and, of course, we can become foster parents.

Whatever you do, you should watch this documentary. It is screening for the first time in Montana this upcoming Thursday, June 2, at 7 p.m. at the Wilma Theater. The doors will open at 6 p.m., and if you buy a ticket in advance (available through the website, www.fromplacetoplacemovie.com), it’s only $5.

Here’s something else: For the past few years I have had the privilege of getting to know the fine folks at the Dan Fox Foster Care and Adoption Program, a part of Youth Homes Inc. I’ve seen first-hand just how much they care about these kids – and how hard they work to find them safe, loving, long-term families. I highly recommend that anyone interested in foster care or adoption check out their website or give them a call (721-2704 in Missoula).

And if you want to support Youth Homes, one fun way to do so is coming up on June 6. On that day, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., if you buy a burger (or veggie burger) at Scotty’s Table, the proceeds will be donated to Youth Homes.

The burgers at Scotty’s are all locally produced, and for $15 you get a burger, fries and a local beer. The restaurant is located in the bottom unit of the Wilma Theater, at 131 S. Higgins Ave.

For more information about the burger benefit call 541-1642.

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Teen pregnancy, foster care, and Child and Family Services

Lately I’m seeing a lot of opinions in the Missoulian having to do with mom stuff. I don’t know if it’s just the month of May being the month that’s home to Mother’s Day or what, but I’m liking it.

I do know that May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month – and I know this thanks to a letter to the editor from the Montana Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition. That letter stated that “Each day in Montana, approximately three teens give birth” and went on to describe the challenges faces by these teen parents. It ended with a call to action: ” If parents, youth, schools, businesses, faith leaders and health care providers join together to address teen pregnancy, we can make a difference!”

Speaking of calls to action, the new documentary “From Place to Place,” produced by Missoula’s Matt Anderson, is already making huge waves – and it hasn’t even screened in Montana yet. The documentary follows the lives of two Missoula youth who age out of the foster care system – without a family.

These youth have become advocates for change; one spoke at a Montana child welfare conference earlier this month, and I understand they have spoken to other leaders in the national system as well. You can read Anderson’s guest column in the Missoulian here. And you can watch “From Place to Place” at its first Montana screening at the Wilma Theatre a week from today, on Thursday, June 2, at 7 p.m.

And finally, in her guest column last week, Child and Family Services Division administrator Shirley K. Brown also had some important information to share – including information about how you can help protect Montana’s abused and neglected children:

In Montana, 903 children were removed from their homes because of child abuse or neglect from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010. The type of abuse experienced by these children includes physical neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and medical neglect.

Montana’s children are our future – children need a safe, stable family environment. Each individual in Montana can protect children who are being abused or neglected by reporting suspected abuse or neglect. To report concerns about a child’s safety, call 1-866-820-5437 (1-866-820-KIDS). Another way to help is by learning more about becoming a licensed foster parent. To learn about becoming a foster parent, call 1-866-939-7837 (1-866-9FOSTER) or email AskAboutFosterCare@mt.gov.

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More on the secondhand underwear controversy

Last week Connie Schultz, in her syndicated column, brought to my attention a proposal from a Michigan state senator to require foster parents to use their children’s clothing allowance in thrift stores only.

Sen. Bruce Caswell has since dropped the proposal, but his idea got a lot of folks thinking about the value of new versus used clothing. Me, my mind went straight to underwear. As in, used underwear is not something I would buy; would the proposal have applied to children’s underpants as well? And shoes and socks and other hard-to-find-in-good-condition-and-in-the-right-season-and-in-the-right-size items?

This week Connie Schultz wrote a second column on the subject after speaking with a woman who has very definite ideas – rooted in personal experience – about used clothing.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine. Her column appears each Friday on the Missoulian’s Opinion page, but since she writes more than one column in a week, this one won’t be in the paper.

But you can read it here:

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Underwear not fun to wear if bought secondhand

Connie Schultz has a column up today about a proposal from Michigan state Sen. Bruce Caswell that would make sure parents of kids in the foster care system only spend their clothing allowance on used clothes. Caswell is backing off the proposal fast, but the controversy over used versus new clothes rages on.

What I want to know is: Would the proposal have applied to children’s undergarments as well?

I ask because underpants are one thing I absolutely refuse to buy from thrift stores – and most of my family’s clothing was purchased at such places (with a few notable exceptions).

Rarely do I ever see brand-new underpants – let alone children’s underpants – in secondhand stores. It’s also tough to find seasonal shoes that fit my kiddo (like rain boots in the spring, sturdy sandals in the summer, snow boots in the winter, etc.). Socks in good shape are also hard to come by in my daughter’s age range – probably because kids her age are pretty hard on their clothes.

So I’d consider Caswell’s proposal impractical as well as insensitive. Sure, secondhand clothes are great – they are often just as good as new and cost only a fraction of the price.

And if you were fostering a kiddo who had seem some pretty rough times and she had her heart set on a particular sparkly pink princess skirt, perhaps you could find it in your heart to say no. But you shouldn’t be forced to.

What do you say? What do you think about used versus new, hand-me-downs and passed-arounds?

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Take Heart Gallery to heart on last day of National Adoption Month

Have you been to Southgate Mall recently? Did you notice the large lighted posters of children on display? Did you stop and read about them – about how they are all children currently available for adoption?

The display is called the Heart Gallery, and it’s meant to draw attention to children in need of forever homes by drawing attention to a handful of individual kids. It has been on display throughout the month of November because November is National Adoption Month.

Read more about the Heart Gallery and Montana’s foster care children in Coral Beck’s recent guest opinion piece in the Missoulian. Coral Beck works in Missoula, and is the Western region administrator for the Child and Family Services Division of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

She notes that you can get more information about Montana’s adoption process by calling 1-866-9FOSTER (1-866-936-7837).

– MM

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More than 30,000 children adopted on National Adoption Day

Today, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, will personally finalize adoptions for two families in advance of National Adoption Day tomorrow.

According to HHS, “Over the past 11 years, more than 30,000 children have been adopted from foster care on National Adoption Day through the efforts of adoption advocates, policymakers, judges and lawyers.”

National Adoption Day, marked each year on Nov. 20, is meant to raise awareness of the thousands of children in the United States who are eligible for adoption. In the U.S. there are an estimated 114,000 children currently in foster care, waiting to be adopted into a family.

– MM

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April child abuse brings May foster care

As Shirley Brown, Child and Family Services Division administrator for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, notes in her guest column in the Missoulian, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the May is Foster Parent Appreciation Month.

It’s a fitting sequence, as child abuse is usually followed by foster care – or at least it is when the system works as it should.

Throughout the next two months, Missoula and other communities in western Montana will be home to a number of events meant to raise awareness and deepen the pool of understanding about child abuse and foster care, as Brown mentioned in her column.

One event I’d like to highlight in particular is being organized by a group of social work students at the University of Montana and is scheduled, I believe, for April 27 at Meadowview Community Church. The lineup of speakers includes a pair of foster parents and their foster child, Bill Neaves of the Dan Fox Foster Care and Adoption Program at Youth Homes, two professors from the university and Missoula Mayor John Engen.

I’ll post more details as they become available.

– MM

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The whole foster care/adoption thing

Right now there are a lot of good kids – too many, in fact – in need of good homes. This story in Sunday’s Missoulian pretty much sums up the situation.

Charlie and I took the series of classes offered through Youth Homes earlier this year, and they were amazing. They answered all of our questions plus many more we hadn’t thought of. I highly recommend them to anyone thinking about fostering or adopting a child – even if you aren’t committed to the idea of fostering or adopting just yet.

You can call Missoula Youth Homes at 721-2704.

– Tyler Christensen

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