In February 2020, two district court judges in Yellowstone County, Judge Ashley Harada and Judge Jessica Fehr, began what is called an Emergency Protective Services (EPS) pilot court in Yellowstone County to allow parents to see one of them within 72 hours. Although that’s normal in most states, Montana gives courts 20 days to set the initial hearing.

Yellowstone County is hoping to improve the outcomes for families involved with the child welfare system by having parents and their attorneys meet each other sooner in the process, thereby keeping families engaged. In addition, the pilot court intends to add timely access to substance abuse evaluation and treatment services.

The overarching goals of the EPS pilot court are to:

  • Reunify families;
  • Get parents involved at the outset of a case;
  • Obtain better assessment of parents’ abilities and needs;
  • Provide services from the outset;
  • Resolve cases in a more timely manner;
  • Return kids to their families as quickly as possible.

The EPS hearing will take place within approximately 72 hours of removal and will be set for a specific time in the afternoon. The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether the court is going to grant emergency protective services. At that time, the parents will have a chance to consult with an attorney. The initial attorney may not be their long-term attorney, but that attorney can give the parent(s) some initial advice, try to see if an in-home or voluntary plan might be an option, or just give the parents information about the Office of Public Defender (OPD) so they can get in touch with their long-term attorney much sooner.

 In addition, at the time of removal, parents will be given contact information about OPD, so they might be able to reach their attorney before the EPS hearing.

Upon removal, Child & Family Services Division’s child protection specialists  give three documents to the parents: 1) A parental notice; 2) the notice of removal and hearing; and 3) Immediate Danger Assessment form, which states the parent has received a copy of the notice.

An intern from the Walla Walla School of Social Work is coordinating the project and is collecting data about parents’ participation in child visitation and court hearings.

  • 4 February 2020
  • Author: Cook, Kevin
  • Number of views: 494
  • Comments: 0
Categories: CAP

Next Questions and Setting Court Expectations 


Note: Montana has nearly the highest number of children in foster care in the nation relative to the state's population. In 2016, Montana had the highest rate of child removal in the country. In 2017, Montana had the second highest removal rate. We must do better to reduce removals, to reduce time in foster care and to strengthen and reunite families. If you do nothing else, ASK THESE QUESTIONS AT EVERY HEARING.

  1. Do you know or have reason to know that the child is an Indian child? What potential tribes?


  2. What has been done to prevent removal?


  3. What is being done to decrease the child's time in foster care?


  4. What are the specific safety issues preventing the child from being returned home today?


  5. What efforts has the Department made to place the child with a relative or kin (friend or other individual identified by parent)?


  6. How are the Department, parents, and others supporting stability for the child (in placement, school, etc.)?


  7. What other efforts must be made to support the child and promote timely permanency in case the safety issues cannot be ameliorated?


  8. Ask parent: How do you think things are going?


Note: Holding all parties accountable improves parent engagement and timely permanency. The following are suggested to develop a plan as to how the case will proceed, what is expected of each party, and the timeframe for completion of tasks and their review by the Court.

  1. What has been accomplished since the last hearing?
    1. Parent?
    2. Department?


  2. What is the plan for unsupervised visits?

    (Presumption that visits should be unsupervised can be changed only if substantial safety risks are present. A generalized belief the parent may not return the child or the parent has history of drug use, etc., is not enough to prevent unsupervised visits.)

  3. Can visitation be increased or less restrictive?


  4. Engage parents – ask:
    1. How do you think things are going? What do you think you need at this time?
    2. What do you think your child needs at this time?
    3. How can we be assured child will be safe with you during visits?
    4. Find out about parent's living, work, and family situations
    5. Do you understand what you need to do for child to be returned?
    6. Is anything interfering with your ability to do the tasks necessary for your child to be returned?


  5. What must be accomplished before the next hearing?
    1. What will parent do?
    2. What will the Department do?


  6. Set next hearing in open court


  7. Summarize the plan and the Court's expectations – what will CPS/ SW do, what will parent do, what will attys do prior to next hearing.


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