MT senator announces child protection bill while visiting Missoula children’s shelter

U.S. Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., was in town yesterday and stopped by Watson Children’s Shelter.

While there, he learned about the shelter’s operations from Director Fran Albrecht, talked to some of the kids staying there, and announced a new bill – the Protecting Children from Interstate Child Endangerment Act.

The Missoulian article provides a good synopsis. Here’s the full press release from Walsh’s office:

Walsh sponsors legislation

to strengthen federal law to protect children

Senator announces legislation

during tour of Watson Children’s Shelter in Missoula

(US SENATE)—During a tour of the Watson Children’s Shelter in Missoula, Senator John Walsh today announced legislation to protect children by strengthening federal child endangerment laws.

The Protecting Children from Interstate Child Endangerment Act corrects the inconsistencies across state child abuse laws and creates a uniform federal law for prosecutors to federally prosecute child abusers.  Currently, laws vary from state to state making it difficult to prosecute offenders who cross state lines.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

“This bill gives law enforcement the tools they need to keep our children safe from negligence and abuse,” Walsh said.  “Having a uniform child endangerment law across the country will ensure every child will have equal access to justice, and it will make our communities a safer place to raise our families.”

During Walsh’s time as Lieutenant Governor, Governor Steve Bullock signed into law legislation expanding Montana’s child protection laws, creating a new offense of criminal endangerment to prevent child abuse in the state.

Walsh’s bill uses the Montana state law as a model for federal policy and creates offenses for the following forms of child endangerment, which currently do not carry a federal penalty:

  • Placing children up to age 14 in the physical custody of individuals who are known to have purposely or knowingly caused bodily injury to a child.
  • Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance, in violation of the law of the State in which the motor vehicle is being operated, while the child is in the motor vehicle.

The federal law would establish a penalty of $50,000 and/or 10 years in prison.

What Montanans are saying about Walsh’s bill:

“Working with over 1,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault ever year, we see very clearly the devastating effects of child abuse on victims and their families,” said Melinda Reed, Executive Director of the Friendship Center in Helena.  “This new law will provide much needed protection to children across the country, and hold abusers accountable with tough new penalties.”

“Thank you Senator Walsh for sponsoring a bill that will create consistency across state child abuse laws,” said Paula Samms,  Director of the Lewis and Clark Child Advocacy Center of AWARE Inc. “Hundreds of children a year tell us the details of the abuse they have suffered at the hands of the adults they have trusted. These adults need to be prosecuted and these children need to be protected.”

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Bike for Shelter Saturday

Yes, this weekend’s weather isn’t supposed to be the best, but the 14th annual Bike for Shelter event promises to be fun enough to make up for cloudy skies.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. at the Fort Missoula park area, and the fundraiser includes a bike rodeo, 2- and 11-mile rides, carnival-style games and even miniature ponies.

Behind all that fun, though, is a serious cause.

Each year, more than 100 children, from infants to the age of 14, call one of Watson Children’s Shelter’s locations home.

Some arrive with only the clothes on their backs. Others don’t know when their birthdays are. All need normalcy and a safe environment in which to be kids.

Saturday’s event is a celebration of that normalcy and providing for Missoula kids in crisis.

One Missoula kiddo, Zane Goicovich, wants to make sure kids continue to get help and has raised more than $1,000 to support Watson Children’s Shelter. Part of that sum is from his own weekly allowance.

Here’s Zane himself. He just learned how to ride with one hand off the handlebars and showed us his new trick. (Photo by Elliot Natz)

Watson’s reminds Zane of the Ronald McDonald House in Denver, where he stays once a year for checkups. Now 8-and-a-half, Zane underwent brain surgery when he was 4. Missoulians circled the wagons to make sure his family had everything they needed to get through the health ordeals that lasted for several years.

Zane’s been feeling much better these days, and said he wants other kids to know they can feel better too. Raising money is just his way of helping out.

Thanks, Zane, for being more of an inspiration than you even know.

For Ride for Shelter details, go here.


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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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Tired, tired teens break world record for longest tennis match

Congratulations are pouring in for the Hellgate High School seniors who set a new Guinness World Record for playing the longest tennis match in recorded history: a bout that wrapped up Sunday after 60 hours, 59 minutes and 58 seconds.

Sam Angel

Sam Angel

Katie Martens

Katie Martens

Closing in on the final hours of the match, 18-year-old Sam Angel was reportedly delirious with exhaustion: “”I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m really tired, I’m tired,” he said.

His fatigue – and that of singles partner Katie Martens – was all for a very good cause. The two raised more than $7,000 for Watson Children’s Shelter, which provides emergency shelter for children who have experienced family trauma.

Now that’s what I call a love game! Congratulations, Sam and Katie.

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Missoula now has plenty of room for children who need a safe place to recover from trauma

Watson Children’s Shelter in Missoula is western Montana’s emergency shelter for children who have experienced abuse, neglect or other family crises. It’s where children who have no other safe place to go can live until a more permanent home for them can be found, and where they can be cared for in a way that helps them begin to heal. For many of these children, it’s the first place they have ever lived where they are completely safe from physical or mental harm.

That’s why it was so all-important for Watson’s to build a second shelter. Its first shelter kept filling to capacity, forcing its staff to turn away children in need. And that’s something Missoula just could not tolerate – so it didn’t.

This month, the shelter wrapped up its three-year, $4.4 million fundraising campaign to build a second shelter and create an endowment to keep the shelter in good finances for years to come.

The fact that Watson’s was able to raise this amount during a recession is a testament to the good work done by its staff and directors – and to the special place children hold in our hearts.

Photo by LINDA THOMPSON/Missoulian

Photo by LINDA THOMPSON/Missoulian

Congratulations, Watson’s – and congratulations, Missoula! We’ve done a good thing by making sure these kids receive good care after all they’ve experienced, and showing them they will not be forgotten or ignored by this community.

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Help make the holidays special for kids going through a tough time

The Missoulian’s Tandy Khameneh put it beautifully in her Thanksgiving Day “We Care” column: “Sometimes children are not able to be with their families, but you can help make them feel special during the holiday season.”

There are many ways to show kids who belong to needy western Montana families – or who find themselves apart from their families this winter – that they are part of a community that cares about them.

Yesterday’s “We Care” column, for one, provided a wish list for the current residents of Watson Children’s Shelter, an emergency shelter for children ranging in age from newborn to 14 years old who have experienced abuse, neglect, abandonment or other family crises. Give the shelter a call at 549-0058 to find out which wish list items have been filled and which are still needed.

In Ravalli County, some 250 children have pinned their holiday hopes upon the angel tree inside the Prudential Montana Real Estate office in downtown Hamilton. The organizers of this gift-giving effort are urging anyone interested in buying a present – or perhaps several presents – to bring them in by Dec. 10 so that they can be wrapped and delivered in time for Christmas.

“I know it’s a really hard time for everybody this year, but if we band together as a community, we can get this done,” organizer Carolyn Corter says.

As much as I dislike shopping, it’s always fun to buy presents for kids. You really don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a child feel special. A box of new crayons and a journal-style book of blank pages only costs about $2 – but the lift it gives the recipient is absolutely priceless.

– MM

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Eat ice cream, help build an emergency shelter for kids

Watson Children’s Shelter is the emergency shelter for children who have been removed from their families, usually because of drugs, domestic violence or other problems no kid should be exposed to.

As most Missoulians are aware by now, the shelter is nearing the finish line for its capital campaign to raise money for a new building. The shelter can only take so many kids at a time, and has had to turn some children away in the past. The new shelter is being planned to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future.

This morning I got a press release from Missoula Baskin Robbins owner Matt Loomis, who announced that his ice cream store on Brooks Street will be hosting its first-ever Watson Children’s Shelter Night on Monday, June 28 from 5-10 p.m. On that night, the store will donate 100 percent of its profits to Watson’s.

This will be the first time I’ve ever marked my calendar to visit an ice-cream store.

– MM

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Holiday events benefit young moms and kids

If you’re looking to have a little holiday-inspired fun while helping out some awesome local nonprofits, you could do worse than take the Holiday at Home Tour or check out the 11th annual Festival of Trees.

The Holiday at Home Tour takes you to privately owned homes that have been decked out in various holiday themes. Tickets for a special VIP guided tour on Friday cost $50, and proceeds go to Youth Homes and Watson Children’s Shelter.

This tour starts at La Bella Vita at 5 p.m. with drinks and appetizers, then a bus will leave at 5:45 p.m. and make stops at three homes before dropping everyone off at the Missoula Art Museum for a party and more food and drinks. Call 523-0486 to get these tickets now because there’s a limited number.

If you miss out on the VIP tour, though, you can still take the self-guided tour for $10 each. Buy tickets at the Missoulian or La Bella Vita. The holiday homes will be open on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, all this week you can see beautiful trees on display at Southgate Mall and bid on the one you like best, with proceeds going to Mountain Home Montana.

And isn’t supporting organizations that help struggling young mothers and children who cannot be with their families really living the spirit of the season?

– MM

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In the news: principals, counting kids and making kids count

First, please note that tonight’s the night Lowel Elementary School is inviting parents and the general public to meet its finalists for principal. There are four of them: Brian Bessette, Kathleen Dent, Luke Laslovich and Becky Sorenson. Go to the Lowell School Annex at 6 p.m. tonight to meet them yourself.

I also have to lament the sad news that Montana’s ranking in terms of the overall well-being of its children has fallen. We’re now in 30th place, according to the 2009 Kids Count report.

Why so low? Montana does pretty well when it comes to keeping infant mortality low. We have a lower-than-average number of single-parent households. But the number of teen deaths – while falling – is way above the national average.

The Missoulian article also contains a bit of advice for the parents of young children: Keep your little ones in a booster seat or car seat – and in the back seat, even past the age of 2.

In happier news, Watson Children’s Shelter has broken ground on its second facility in Missoula. In honor of this milestone, Missoula Mom offers her hearty congratulations and a sincere wish that the second location never fills to capacity.

– Missoula Mom

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Children’s shelter hosts open house on Friday

Watson Children’s Shelter will be providing the public a rare opportunity to tour its building at 2901 Old Fort Missoula Road on Friday. The shelter provides a safe place for children whose families have fallen apart for whatever reasons.

In recent months, the shelter has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of children needing emergency shelter – but since Watson’s can only house 16 at a time, it has had to turn many children away. The shelter’s executive director, Fran Albrecht, has told me how this just breaks her heart, and renews her committment to building a second shelter.

So on June 19, from 2 to 4 p.m. folks can go down to Watson’s and see for themselves how the nonprofit help heal hurt children – as well as plan for the new shelter. While Watson’s has recently gotten some good news on the funding front, it’s going to take community support and community dollars to make this second shelter a reality.

For more information about Watson’s plans for a second shelter – and some gut-wrenching statistics, check out

– Tyler Christensen

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