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At Youth Homes and Partnership for Children, we recognize that meeting the long-term needs of our youth, we must strengthen the environment they live in — both now and in the future.

We operate 11 group homes and offer foster care, adoption, in-home mental health and child welfare support for families, and outpatient clinics for youth and families in five communities. Each day we serve over 400 youth and families!

We do this work because we believe every child — regardless of economic or family circumstance — should be able to achieve their potential. This is a core belief of Montanans; together, we do our part for kids by collectively investing in them.

Montana is in danger. Our state has already experienced $218 million in general fund cuts, and potential for $200 million more to come. I am deeply concerned about severe cuts to rates for all mental health services, limiting the needed amount of therapeutic group care that keeps youth close to home and in communities, and severe cuts that impact foster children, victims of domestic violence, and foster care for tribal children.

Since the late '80s Montana has built a wide array of mental health services for youth and families based on a response to block-granting of social services by our federal government. Congregate care moved under Medicaid, the savings resulting in Montana investing in family support services, expanding the menu from counseling to expanding support services, including targeted case management, in-home therapies, mental health aids and school-based mental health.

What this has achieved is a very different, more effective way to address family crisis. In the '70s and '80s Montana had over 450 Montana youth in state institutions. Today we have only 40. 

Our mental health system, based on “family voice and choice,” allows families to choose help earlier and more effectively than ever before. These services address issues of abuse, neglect, addiction, violence, attachment, trauma and more. It allows families to get help for a child without neglecting or criminalizing their child. State budget cuts in eliminating services, limiting access and reducing rates will take us back to the '70s. Please help us not go back to those days.

The proposed 10 percent of additional cuts could wipe out much of the progress made in many vital areas, including early intervention, trauma recovery or developmental issues. Pitting programs against one another is unproductive. It does not have to be this way.

Now is that time that elected officials be serious about raising revenue. Our leaders must work together to solve this crisis without forcing the brunt of cuts on families. There are responsible options that can raise critical funds and help Montana be the place we love.

I am proud of all we have done to change the lives of thousands of kids, and we will continue to do everything we can to give kids what they need. We dedicate our resources to strengthen families and raise children supportively so that they can fully contribute to their communities. I only ask that our elected officials do the same.

Geoffrey L. Birnbaum is executive director of Youth Homes Inc., and writes from Missoula. 

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