UM Distributes $1 Million for Children’s Services


MISSOULA – The University of Montana’s Center for Children, Families and Workforce Development and Montana Children’s Mental Health Bureau are distributing $1 million in grant funding to support innovative programming in children’s services.

The funding comes at a time when children and families are struggling with mental health and basic services in the midst of the pandemic, coupled with an increased demand on the foster care system.

Montana received the funding from a Title XX block grant to support services that help achieve self-sufficiency, prevent child abuse and neglect, and provide community and home-based care.

“The funding provides timely resources and support as children’s mental health providers manage the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of Families First and the Children’s Mental Health Bureau’s renewed focus on family engagement,” said Jeff Folsom, policy director at the center.

Montana has seen an unsettling rise in youth entering foster care due to abuse and neglect over the last decade and now sits at second in the country per capita for the number of children entering care. Additionally, youth age out of Montana Medicaid mental health services at age 18 or 19 – many of whom are in foster care or other out-of-home care settings. Many exit care without a strong support system in place and struggle to find a job, secure housing and navigate applying for the health care coverage needed to continue their mental health services.

Susan Dawson, grant director of the Innovation Grants project at UM, is excited about the fund’s potential to carve new paths for child welfare engagement in Montana.

“We have an incredible team behind this project who are prepared to support our grantees in their exploration of innovative ideas to strengthen our youth and families,” Dawson said, noting that up to 15 Montana organizations will receive funding.

The goal of Innovation Grants is to help create systems that reduce reliance on out-of-home and out-of-state placement of Montana youth for mental health care and treatment. Innovation Grants fund applicants who explore innovative ways to address the comprehensive needs of the family instead of narrowly focusing on the individual services each provider delivers.  

All too often, policy and practice are created using a top-down approach, Dawson said. Innovation Grants seeks to change this by taking a ground-up approach that empowers and involves those most adversely affected.

Dawson said Innovation Grants seeks to fund “applicants that see the value of embedding family and youth voice in all aspects of service delivery and organizational management and that are committed to systemic change that will empower youth and families for generations to come.”

The application process for the current grant is underway, and a multidisciplinary team of both center and bureau staff are reviewing proposals.

“As we spend time with potential grantees working through their applications, we are thrilled at their excitement to collaborate,” Dawson said. “We want to create an environment where exploration and collaboration is supported. By giving our grantees the space to explore in this manner, I believe we will have some truly authentic innovative approaches to the challenges we face.”

Learn more at Innovations Grants.


Contact: Ryan Tolleson-Knee, executive director, UM Center for Children, Families and Workforce Development, 406-529-6499,