HELENA, Mont. — The head of Montana’s Division of Child and Family Services has resigned after 16 months on the job as the state has a record number of kids in foster care and the agency is dealing with internal budget cuts and a loss of funding for outside groups that offer support services.
Maurita Johnson held the position since November 2016. Officials did not give a reason for her departure on Friday.
Sheila Hogan, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, told Lee Newspapers of Montana the position is a priority and the agency will be seeking a replacement immediately.
“Maurita Johnson has decided to pursue other opportunities, and we wish her all the best in the future,” Hogan said.
When Johnson started as division administrator, Montana had a record 3,300 children in foster care, in part due to increased parental drug use. The agency was being criticized for failing to remove children from dangerous homes and unnecessarily removing others.
Agency officials say Montana now has 3,952 children in foster care.
A panel created by Gov. Steve Bullock in 2015 had investigated the agency and found the child protection system to be in crisis. The Protect Montana Kids Commission noted the agency was struggling with enormous growth in caseload and was unable to hire and retain enough caseworkers.
In December 2016, Johnson said she wanted to leverage community resources to help reduce the number of children in foster care while improving training and job satisfaction for caseworkers. At the time, the state had six openings for caseworkers. The health department is now advertising for 22 caseworkers on the state’s job listing website.
Recent state budget cuts have reduced available community services that augment state services. The Center for Children and Families in Billings has closed and other agencies have said they would have to close due to reduced Medicaid reimbursement for home support services and some targeted case management services.