HELENA — The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) announced on Friday the creation of a new Early Childhood and Family Support Division (ECFSD).
The new division will consolidate several programs within DPHHS with the goal of improving collaboration while aligning funding, priorities and practices.
“We’re really excited about this new division,” said Sheila Hogan, DPHHS director. “We want to make sure that families are strong and those families have everything they need.”
Services like child care licensing, early childhood services, early intervention services for young children with developmental delay, child nutrition programs, home visiting and child, adolescent, and family health programs will all be under ECFSD.
The creation of the new division is the result of a comprehensive statewide needs assessment that took a look at Montana’s early childhood system.
The report found that early care and education resources varied greatly across the state, with rural counties and Native American communities facing greater child care access challenges. Governance of state agency programs was also indicated to have an issue, with the report noting fragmentation in policy due to programs located in different divisions and bureaus.
Montana was noted for making significant strides in increasing early care and education program quality. The State also has much of the early care and education workforce in place.
Hogan said bringing the early childhood care and family support services together under one umbrella is the natural evolution of the Department’s commitment to helping young children and families.
“There will be more organizational efficiencies and really stretch some limited resources,” said Hogan.
Jamie Palagi will lead the new division after serving as the DPHHS Human and Community Services Division Administrator for the past eight years.
“From a working level it’s about coming together and making sure we’re moving forward together with the same philosophy and approach,” said Palagi. “The brain develops very quickly, but the most significant time when brains are growing and learning is in the early childhood years. We also know that little kids spend most of their time with their families, as they should, and we want to make sure we’re supporting parents in the very best way possible, and make sure the family thrives, kids have what they need to thrive at a very young age and be school ready.”
Around 100 employees will be under ECFSD, and the State says its creation was budget neutral for DPHHS, with no jobs threatened or cut.
ECFSD is the thirteenth division of DPHHS. The Division will specifically include Early Childhood Services and Family and Community Health Bureaus, Child Care Licensing, No Kid Hungry, Montana Milestones/ Part C Early Intervention, Family Education and Support Program, and the Montana Children’s Trust Fund.