HELENA – For over 100 years, Florence Crittenton has been working in Montana offering residential programs for young, pregnant women and children.

Now, things are changing.

“We’ve always tried to be responsive to the needs of our clients and analyze that periodically over time and I think it’s becoming increasingly aware in Montana that there’s a huge issue with substance use,” explained Executive Director Barb Burton.

Burton said after speaking with several state agencies and organizations, like the Department of Justice this summer, building a comprehensive residential substance abuse treatment program was necessary.

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“Nearly 95 percent of our clients had what we call co-occurring disorders of mental health and substance use,” she said.

That figure is in line with numbers from the Department of Public Health and Human Services that say 46 percent of all open Child and Family Services placements have a methamphetamine indication.

“Substance use within families and in particular with young pregnant and parenting women is something that we’ve definitely seen on the rise within our programs,” Burton said.

Burton said this idea of shifting gears has been in the works for over a year and a half. Five months ago, that idea was set into motion, causing some shake ups within the organization.

“What we had to make the very difficult decision to do was to temporarily furlough some of our staff,” Burton said. “I can’t remember what that number was; I think it was nine maybe that were initially affected.”

An email Florence Crittenton provided KTVH that was sent to a list of donors dated August 2, explained the changes in programs and said these new services would be geared toward substance use disorder.

Also in the email, a ‘short’ suspension of programs would be expected, along with furloughing staff.

Florence Crittenton Development Director Carrie Krepps told KTVH the staff’s last day was August 11 and as of December 7, the programs have yet to be restored.

Suspending the residential programs came at a time when they weren’t serving many clients.

“We had made the decision to temporarily lay things back because we were a little bit lower in census at the time and there were very few people that were affected,” Burton said. “We kind of gauged that timing on when people would naturally transition out of the program so it wasn’t as though we kicked anybody to the street and said ‘now you have no place to go’.”

The organization said part of the reason for these changes had to do with money – or lack of it.

When staff was furloughed, the remaining staff, including directors, took pay cuts.

For the first time in three years, Florence Crittenton Home and Services had less money at the end of the year than it started with $384,945 based on the federal income tax form 990.

Development Director Carrie Krepps also told KTVH, “state placement dollars for clients under our structure at the time of the decision were becoming increasingly restrictive, which was both limiting the clients that needed services that the state could place, and limiting the amount of time they could spend in the program and how much the state could pay for them to be here.”

This new substance abuse treatment program will begin with the help of a Montana Healthcare Foundation grant of $75,000.

Up to four clients and their children will be able to participate in this new program, which Burton said makes it easier for women to choose to get help.

“When we talked to clients in those [other states] programs and the deciding factor for them was whether they could come with their children and not have to place them in foster homes or with people who were maybe less than what they wanted for their kids,” explained Burton.

“Obviously we’re all concerned about how drugs affect our communities and I’m also really excited to see the change this could have on young families,” exclaimed Burton.

She added that while the foundation of the residential program is changing, the clientele is not.

“We’re still working on that demographic, young woman up to the age of 24 in our residential programs where we can wrap all of those services around them,” added Burton.

The ‘Substance Use Disorder Recovery Home for Pregnant and Parenting Young Women’ will be accepting mothers age 18 to 24 and their children up to age five.

Florence Crittenton also received a federal grant from the Administration for Children and Families for runaway and homeless youth.

The new, ‘Transitional Living Program’ will serve homeless pregnant and parenting mothers ages 16 to 21 and their children from all over the state.

The federal grant is for $194,000 a year for five years and Florence Crittenton will have four beds dedicated to this specific program.

Burton explained that despite the program having a new name, and the funding coming from a different avenue, the services will mirror previous efforts.

“While the grant is a little different, it’s basically what we’ve always done. We’ve always provided that combination of treatment for young women who are displaced or marginalized in some way,” she said. “It enables us to bring clients in who really don’t have any other source of resources to get here.”

Women involved in the substance abuse treatment programs will be encouraged to stay up to a year and a half; the runaway program is designed to have women stay up to two years.

The timeline for these new, residential programs to begin is unknown.  

“There’s a lot of moving parts when you do something like this. A lot of it depends on how soon we are completely staffed up and ready to go,” explained Burton.

She anticipates hiring between eight and 12 staff members, hopefully some of the previous employees.

Looking ahead, Burton said she is confident the community will come together to ensure these programs will have the funding and support necessary to continue.

“We know that this is a big issue that people are willing to invest time and resources into.”

But Burton also hopes the programs will become ‘somewhat self-sustaining.’

“Our outpatient services for example, will be a fee for service,” she explained, which will be another change.

Burton made it a point to remind everyone that the community outreach programs, such as the child enrichment center and home visitation, are still active. Plus, if there is a woman who does not fall under the ‘Transitional Living Program’ or the ‘Recovery Home’ umbrella, Florence Crittenton will provide critical care through the Maternity Home license held with the state.