By Ron VandenBoom
It is rare in Montana for child care providers to be child abusers and they are generally safe places for parents to leave their children. They in fact serve as a first line of defense against child abuse in Montana.
So said Rod Huisman, social work supervisor with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).
"It's still important for parents to know what's going on in a day care," Huisman said, adding that dropping in for frequent and unexpected visits is an example of one way parents can insure that their provider maintains high standards of quality care.
In fact, the department looks to day care facilities for assistance in preventing child abuse.
All licensed day care providers are required by law to report suspected cases of abuse to the department or the day care provider licenser in the area where they live. This includes reports from parents who might be transferring their children to new providers because they suspect abuse was taking place at their previous day care facility.
Pamela Filler, child care licenser for the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Quality Assurance Division in Havre, said licensed day care providers can receive training from the Human Resource and Development Council's (HRDC) Child Care Link, and other community based programs, on how to identify possible child abuse.
Filler explained that day care providers are in a good position to notice things like repetitive bruising or other behavioral indicators that abuse is occurring.
Huisman said that once a suspected case of abuse is reported, the department will plan out an investigation. The investigation may require that the provider take pictures of the child or it may require interviews with the child and interviews with the provider.
Eventually department investigators may also interview the parents to learn whether there is a reason for the child's conduct or injuries.
Huisman explained that a variety of avenues may be pursued if an investigation determines there is some type of abuse or neglect taking place. Avenues include, but are not limited to, parenting classes, drug and alcohol treatment, and even legal action and suspension of parental rights if necessary.
DPHHS works closely with law enforcement agencies and the courts to as Huisman sees it share kind of a joint jurisdiction where abuse cases are concerned.
Law enforcement, he said, is often the first to encounter evidence of abuse. Normally it is they that will contact DPHHS who will then take the lead in investigating.
But the two agencies, by their nature, have to work together and utilize county attorneys and the courts when necessary to protect the welfare of the child.
Ask Huisman whether DPHHS is winning the battle against child abuse and he'll tell you that today, "we are encountering new and very strong elements that we've have never had to fight before."
He singles out Methamphetamine as one such example.
"It's so hard to kick," he said, adding that its affects impact the entire family in a way that is new to Montana's child abuse prevention agencies.