Children in crisis: Missoula, state grapple with increasing child abuse cases

Watson Children’s Shelter built a second shelter in July 2010. If they were to build a third shelter, Boehm worries it would be full in no time.

by CHELSEA DAVIS updated May 21, 2016

There’s a sense of helplessness surrounding the rise in child abuse and neglect cases in Missoula and across the state.

Watson Children’s Shelter built a second shelter in July 2010. It’s full, and there’s a waiting list. The shelter is not the first resort, said director Mike Boehm. Most who walk through the doors have suffered “profound abuse.”

If they were to build a third shelter, Boehm worries it would be full in no time.

Child abuse is showing no signs of letting up. If anything, it’s getting worse, according to Missoula County and state data. The increase in child abuse and neglect cases parallels a rise in meth cases – not a coincidence, people in the child protection systems say.

“The status of the Montana child protection system is deeply troubling,” according to a recommendations report released Tuesday by the Protect Montana Kids Commission, established by Gov. Steve Bullock last fall to examine issues in the system. “The system is in crisis and is experiencing an enormous growth in caseload.”

There are a record number of Montana children in foster care this year, according to the report – 3,179. That’s more than double the number in 2008. The commission agreed with the correlation: Most of the spike can be attributed to parental drug abuse.

Of those 3,179, more than 1,000 were removed due to their parents’ meth abuse. That’s up from 230 children in foster care due to parental meth abuse in 2010.

Montana courts handled more than 2,300 child abuse and neglect cases in 2015, up from 1,600 in 2014.

Missoula County’s data falls in line with the statewide trend.

In 2015, 173 child abuse and neglect cases were filed in Missoula County. That’s a stark increase from the 51 cases filed per year from 2007 to 2011.

“Our DN (dependency and neglect) cases are slightly ahead of this time last year,” said Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst.

From 2013 to 2015, the number of meth cases opened in Missoula County rose 137 percent.

“Meth cases are still consuming an inordinate amount of resources,” she said.

Deputy county attorney Kelly Henkel reported that about 80 percent of the DN cases she’s filed this year are meth-related. The rest are alcohol-related, or have elements of mental health challenges and physical abuse. All of those children have been removed from the home, with 70 percent placed with family members or close family friends, and the rest going into foster care.

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Missoula (CASA) saw its cases triple in three years, ending 2015 with 180 cases.

“It’s drugs, drugs and drugs,” said Youth Homes executive director Geoff Birnbaum. “It’s the one thing we know, let’s put it that way.”

‘Flooded with methamphetamine’

On a Youth Homes caseworker’s first day of in-home parent visitations in Lewis and Clark County, their caseload was full.

“The oldest kid was 5 and as young as a month old, and every one of the cases had … drug and alcohol, and mostly drugs,” Birnbaum said. “I think the drugs people are using, starting with marijuana, are stronger than ever before. When you go to Oregon and you get legal marijuana, it’s powerful compared to what it was in the ’60s and ’70s. What that tells you is people aren’t just getting a buzz. They’re gone. They’re not available.”

The number of drug abusers has stayed fairly steady during the years, Pabst said, but the types of drugs and where they come from has changed.

“We’re just flooded … flooded with methamphetamine from Mexico,” she said. “There’s just such a rampant supply. We’re seeing a huge influx in product coming from the superlabs in Mexico versus 10 years ago when we were dealing with meth problems and a lot of it was cooked locally.

“It’s a huge money-making venture for these labs in Mexico. They’ve got state-of-the-art equipment, engineers, chemists, versus when it was just real small-town and inconsistent in 2005 and 2006 when we were dealing with such a resurgence.”

A day at the children’s shelter

At 2 p.m., Quinn Kessler starts her day at Watson Children’s Shelter.

Kessler, an evening case manager, reviews the communication log, where staff write down the day’s events and what’s on the schedule for that night, what appointments are coming up that night, for example, if a child has a visitor.

She’s worked there for 12 years, since she was 18 years old.

“I was three years older than our oldest kid,” she said.

Program director Deboruah Madonna’s story is similar. She started at Watson when she was 19, and has now worked there 28 years. But she’s been connected to the shelter far longer. As a child, she grew up next to the shelter and would play with the children, not knowing why they were there.

Within the first three weeks of a child’s stay, they’re enveloped in services – dental, vision, physical, mental health evaluation, counseling and an educational assessment. Watson works with attorneys, a CASA, Department of Public Health and Human Services and family. Meanwhile, parents start treatment plans and in-home services are put in place.

At 4 p.m., three more staff come in to help Kessler as the children get back from school. There’s an afternoon snack and they unwind from the school day before dinner, appointments and showers.

Dinner is family-style at 5 p.m.

After dinner, it’s homework time. Many are in specialized programs at school because of gaps in their education, so there’s a lot of catch-up work. With all of that missed schoolwork, the kids could be working for hours every night, but that stress isn’t healthy for them, staff say. At some point they cut off the studying and let the kids relax – playing, then quiet time, then bedtime.

“We want them to be kids, because often kids come in here, with the type of abuse or life they’ve had, they haven’t had the chance to be a child,” Madonna said.

Staff also have a rule that every child gets at least three positive reinforcements a day.

“We really try to build the children up while they’re here,” she said. “When you come to shelter care, it’s the uncertainty. If you think about going into somebody’s home, they’re strangers – you’re scared and you’re frightened. We’re strangers to them.”

Watson takes in children up to 14 years old. The average stay is 60 days, though children in the more extreme cases – sexual and emotional abuse –often stay longer. The first choice is for parents to be able to get their children back; second is another family member. But many go into foster care, and others to residential treatment homes.

“They become almost like brothers and sisters here, in a way, because they’re living together,” Madonna said. “I ran into a girl yesterday at Walmart and she’s having her third child and we were talking about other shelter kids that she still is in contact with. She named one of her kids after her because they’re best friends.”

Drug abuse’s shocking reality

CASA of Missoula executive director Jeri Delys had one word for the child abuse and neglect spike – meth.

“If you think about what meth does, how can you take care of yourself, let alone a child?” she said.

The images of the Montana Meth Project’s “Not Even Once” campaign stuck with Delys, but reality was more shocking. When she traveled to Mineral County for a meth dealer’s case, she had a vision of what the person would look like – emaciated, with bad teeth and sores on her face.

Then Delys saw the woman and nearly did a double-take: She looked exactly like Delys’ sister.

“It scared me,” Delys said. “It’s so well-hidden. If you think about somebody who’s intoxicated, you can tell. But the signs of a dealer, what do they look like? I was just in my own little bubble. It was extremely eye-opening to me.”

A CASA is assigned to a child in a DN case. The CASA is a trained community volunteer who becomes the voice for that child, “an independent fact-finder.” They have a court order to interview whomever they need.

Nearly every CASA works one case at a time – though last year CASA of Missoula had to ask some to take on two – and they’re at about 125 CASAs right now. There are 80 kids on the waiting list.

“We’re just seeing a steady increase, which is difficult to manage,” she said. “It’s important that our program be able to keep up and it’s hard, and I think anybody who does this kind of work will tell you the same thing. It’s very difficult.”

In 2013, St. Luke Community Healthcare and Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, both in Polson, started collecting data on newborns at risk for neonatal abstinence syndrome. NAS is essentially withdrawal for a baby whose mother was using opioids during pregnancy. That year, 15 percent to 19 percent were at risk. In 2014, it jumped to 22 percent. In 2015, it was nearly one-third.

By January and February of this year, at St. Luke alone, nearly 50 percent were at risk.

“That really touches on everything we’re experiencing,” Delys said.

She doesn’t know what it will take to slow the rise in cases, or stop it altogether.

“I have no idea. I wish I knew. That’s the $10,000 question.”

‘We’ve got to get better as a system’

Policies need to be enacted to help parents and children before a crisis occurs, Missoula County Commissioner Stacy Rye said at April’s “State of the Young Child,” including universal prekindergarten, flexible work schedules and high-quality childcare.

Many businesses still fall behind in offering parental leave, she said, and daycare isn’t cheap.

“We do more and more each day,” Rye said. “We’re so busy that we’re dazed.”

Birnbaum said publicly-funded daycare would take a lot of pressure off families.

“There’s definitely nurses that would tell you … that we know the kid who goes home that we’re worried about,” he said.

Removing a child from their home isn’t simple, according to state law.

“But the cases we’re seeing, it’s like, what took you so long?” Birnbaum said. “And I don’t mean that negatively, because I think they’re (Child and Family Services Division) trying. But everybody’s full. The hospital’s full, the shelters are full.

“I think we’ve got to get better as a system in getting people to be willing to involve. I think that some of it’s just cultural. People defend themselves as parents. When people call me, the first thing I try to do is to make them realize that everybody doesn’t know what the hell to do with their kid. And if we can do that, I think we’d get more families the help they need.”

Pabst said locally, prevention efforts and addiction treatment must be the top priorities.

“Working with projects like the Montana Meth Project, and schools,” she said. “But it’s hard when it’s such a monumental challenge.”

As meth abuse grows, so do serious domestic violence cases. And while children are not directly involved, being around it “is just as traumatizing,” she said.

“We’ve seen a spike in felony domestic cases,” Pabst said. “What meth does to people from a social standpoint from our professional position is that it turns what would be perhaps petty criminals and turns them into felons. These extremely violent cases we’re seeing more often than not are tied to meth abuse: assaults with weapons, strangulation.”

Birnbaum’s message was simple: We can’t give up.

“I have a former Youth Homes kid who wound up losing her children in her early 20s,” he said. “She had a meth addiction, went to prison for three years and lost custody, came out, stayed sober, filed to get shared custody and got it back.

“It’s possible.”

Watson Children’s Shelter hires new executive director

March 4th, 2015 •  By Kathryn Haake – The Missoulian

It’s a drastic change of pace for Wisconsin native Mike Boehm. But for both Watson Children’s Shelter and its new 

executive director, it’s a welcome change.  

Boehm will officially take the center’s reins the week of April 27. He previously led the Family & Children’s Center, based in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. That nonprofit dwarfs Watson Children’s Shelter, serving more than 3,000 people at eight locations across Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Boehm said Tuesday he’s delighted to be part of the smaller Watson shelter, which serves a maximum of 24 children ranging in age from infant to 14.  

“Well, just professionally after 20 years with a large nonprofit, I’m really looking forward to being with an organization that’s more mission-focused,” Boehm said, noting that Watson is an award-winning nonprofit that garners both national attention and respect from the local community. 

Fran Albrecht stepped down as Watson’s executive director in January to become the new executive director of the Providence Montana Health Foundation.

Personally, the move also makes sense to both Boehm and his wife, who are officially “empty nesters.” A move to the Montana was perfect for their outdoor lifestyle and hobbies like hiking and skiing.Boehm said he is looking forward to working with a smaller, yet dedicated staff. When he was CEO of the center in the Midwest, he explained, he oversaw 300 staff members and 43 programs. At Watson, the staff focuses on a few very successful programs. 

“Missoula just sold itself,” he said.

What also intrigued Boehm about Watson was the professionalism he saw at the shelter. From the website to the staff, Boehm said he couldn’t find another organization that could take credit for such high standards.   

“I would be hard-pressed to find an organization as dedicated to the mission as they were,” he said, noting that during the interview process he met many staffers who had been working for the organization for 15 to 25 years. 

“You don’t stay with an organization that long unless you are really committed to the cause,” he said. 

According to a statement released by Watson, Boehm was CEO of the Midwest center for two years, but had worked at the organization in various roles for the past 20. Boehm managed a $13 million annual operating budget, while doubling the organization’s endowment to $4.5 million.

Boehm led the center in child abuse prevention programming, counseling, community outreach and fundraising.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have found a dedicated and proven leader who will help us maintain our excellence and take our organization to the next level,” said Sydney Carlino of Watson. 

Carlino is the shelter’s board chairwoman and, along with program director Deboruah Madonna, is thrilled with the new hire. 

“We are very excited for Mike to join our staff,” Madonna said. “We look forward to leveraging his experience to make what we do even better.” 

Shelter welcomes new executive director

March 3, 2015, Missoula, Montana

Mike Boehm, the former president and CEO of Family & Children’s Center of Wisconsin and Minnesota, joins Watson Children’s Shelter as its new executive director. Boehm has dedicated his 20-year career to serving children and families in need and led his former organization in child abuse prevention programming, counseling, community outreach and fundraising.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have found a dedicated and proven leader who will help us maintain our excellence and take our organization to the next level,” said Sydney Carlino, Watson Children’s Shelter board chair.

Boehm started his nonprofit career with Family & Children’s Center, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, as a program aide for children at risk while pursuing a master’s degree in counseling psychology. Throughout the next 20 years, he continued to work for the center as a case manager, associate director of program services, chief program officer and, ultimately, the organization’s CEO from 2012 through 2014.

As CEO Boehm led the center’s eight facilities with 300 dedicated staff across six counties in Wisconsin and Minnesota and managed a $13 million annual operating budget. He also spearheaded its strategic planning, community relations and fundraising — increasing donor retention by 30 percent and doubling the organization’s endowment to $4.5 million. In 2013, the center culminated a seven-year capital campaign that raised $7.5 million, exceeding its goal by $300,000.

Beohm has also served on the boards of the Minnesota Counsel on Child Caring Agencies and the Wisconsin Association of Family and Children’s Agencies.

“Watson is an exceptional organization and recognized leader,” Boehm said upon receiving the Watson appointment. “It’s obvious that the board, staff and entire community care strongly about providing a safe and nurturing place for abused and neglected kids. I look forward to joining the community and helping advance this mission.”

In addition to his extensive leadership experience, as Watson’s executive director Boehm will bring his deep knowledge of first-crisis family and children intervention and client-centered care — programs he also developed in his previous work with the Midwest center.

“We are very excited for Mike to join our staff,” said Deboruah Madonna, Watson’s program director who has worked at the shelter for 25 years. “We look forward to leveraging his experience to make what we do even better.”

Boehm will officially start at Watson the week of April 27.

Help us honor Fran with a legacy donation to Watson Children’s Shelter

Donate >

For 18 years Fran Albrecht has served the children of Watson Children’s Shelter. Now, as she steps down as our Executive Director, Watson’s Board of Directors asks you to honor Fran and her legacy with a donation to further support the children through the “Thank You Fran Fund.” Help us continue her vibrant and passionate vision for the Shelter, so we can welcome more children than ever to this safe haven for kids in crisis.

Missoula boy who had brain surgery at age 2, raises $1K for children’s shelter

Missoulian aritcle •  by Alice Miller

Several years ago, Zane Goicovich and his family needed help from the community when he underwent brain surgery. Now, the 8-and-a-half-year-old is returning the favor by raising more than $1,000 for Watson Children’s Shelter through Bike for Shelter.

At the age of 2, Goicovich had to be taken by air ambulance to a Spokane hospital after a medical emergency. When he was 4, he underwent brain surgery to remove a part of his brain connected to language and short-term memory capacity.

The surgery helped his health, but came with risks that Goicovich would experience developmental delays.

“It could have been very different – and even with the surgery, it could have been very different,” said Elaine Sheff, Goicovich’s mom.

“I feel so blessed every day to see him,” Sheff said.

Throughout the medical tests and procedures of those years, the Missoula community generously supported the family, she said.

“The Missoula community was so good to us. People made us dinner and mowed our lawn and just really were so, so kind,” Sheff said.

Her family has always wanted to find a way to give back. Fittingly, it was Goicovich who came up with the idea to raise money during the Bike for Shelter event, Sheff said.

Goicovich said he wants other children to feel better, too, and decided to raise money during the Ride for Shelter event as a way to celebrate his efforts to improve his own health.

“The kids need help,” said the second-grader, who learned how to ride a bike last fall.

He created a donation webpage and sent out email and Facebook requests. He also added his own weekly allowance to the pot.

On Saturday, he’ll celebrate his efforts during the event that serves as a fundraiser for Watson Children’s Shelter, which provides services to children ages infant to 14 who have nowhere else to go in a time of crisis.

***

Each year, more than 100 children stay with Watson’s, with the average length of stay being 60 days, said Fran Albrecht, the organization’s executive director.

“The need for our care and both of our shelters has remained constant and significant,” Albrecht said.

To meet those needs, the community has stepped up through fundraising efforts, including Saturday’s 14th annual Bike for Shelter event.

The event includes an 11-mile bike ride, which begins at 9:30 a.m., a 2-mile ride, beginning at 10 a.m., and a barbecue and games starting at 11 a.m., all in the Fort Missoula park area. Registration begins at 8 a.m.

A bike rodeo event also is part of the schedule at 9 a.m., and the barbecue has a carnival feel, with sack races, beanbag tosses, miniature horses, prizes and a bike giveaway.

Additionally, people can donate at least $5 to help the shelter provide birthday celebrations to children.

The goal is to raise $60,000, Albrecht said, adding the community has been generous in the past and that the event will have raised $750,000 over its existence.

Saturday’s event also celebrates the children who Watson’s helps, she said.

“Families are precious. Children are precious. It’s a celebration of the special gift of family and children and helping those in need who are from our community,” she said.

Recently, Goicovich got a chance to see the organization’s work up close during a tour of one of the shelters and said he was impressed by the games and comfortable furniture.

“It was pretty cool,” he said.

The home reminded him of the Ronald McDonald House in Denver, where he stays during his annual checkup, he added.

Saturday, Goicovich will have an opportunity to address the crowd and said he’ll probably say, “I’m glad to give you guys all the money.”

“It’s humbling and intense,” Sheff said about accepting help. “And it’s really fun to give something back.”

For more information on the event or Watson Children’s Shelter, go to bikeforshelter.com/information/ or watsonchildrensshelter.org .

Jill Valley laces up to beat the clock for charity

Nov 22, 2013 8:17 PM by • KPAX/KAJ Media Center

MISSOULA – Ready…set…go! MTN’s Jill Valley had her running shoes on Friday, all for charity.

Jill was at the new Famous Footwear Store at Southgate Mall in Missoula. She had 30 seconds to grab as many shoes as she could to raise money for the charity of her choice, Watson Children’s Shelter.

After tearing through the store, Jill managed to grab five pairs of boots and shoes before time was up for a grand total over 360 dollars

That money will be donated to the shelter which Jill hopes will go toward Christmas presents for the children.

Afterward, Jill said she was tired. But it was a good kind of tired.

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Watson Children’s Shelter donation result of decade of interconnected events

October 23, 2013 7:45 pm  •  by Alice Miller – The Missoulian

When she was 6, Jaden Gregory did not fully understand the significance of the wooden, heart-shaped pins she

made and which Shawn Hertel says saved his life.

Hertel was in prison for robbery 10 years ago when he heard the news that his daughter, Tylin Garrymore, had died after being beaten to death by her stepfather.

Tylin died just shy of her second birthday, and Hertel was faced with a decision: Avoid parole and serve a “father’s justice” on Tylin’s abuser or return to the outside.

Then, he saw a Missoulian story about Jaden and her mother, Donelle, who were making pins in memory of Tylin.

“It changed my whole outlook on life and what I wanted to do with my life,” said Hertel, who decided he could still be a moral father to Tylin even if he couldn’t be her physical father anymore.

For Jaden, the pins were a simple way to help remember the toddler.

When she saw her mother crying while watching the news and learned it was because of Tylin, Jaden’s first reaction was to ask if they could take her a toy. Because that was impossible, mother and daughter made heart pins and their sale raised $1,000, which was donated to the Watson Children’s Shelter.

Over the years since, Donelle has often wondered if the donation made a difference.

While she was wondering, Hertel was searching for the Gregorys to tell them what a positive impact their efforts had made.

His search’s success was stymied for years because he was using Donelle’s married name at the time of Tylin’s death.

On Saturday, Hertel finally had the chance to tell them how much their actions meant by presenting Jaden with the inaugural Jaden Gregory Hearts to Remember Award from the Dandelion Foundation.

The Great Falls-based foundation was created by Jessica Bray to raise awareness about child and domestic abuse after her daughter, Kaelyn, died from abuse.

Bray kick-started the foundation with money that Hertel, his wife Kristal, and friend Sara Whitney raised by selling hand-crafted magnets, just like the Gregorys had helped them with their pin sales.

“Our foundation is ultimately just a ripple effect of their act of kindness,” said Hertel, who serves as chairman of the Dandelion Foundation’s board.

No matter what the act of kindness, it has an impact, he said. “You don’t know how big of a difference you’re going to make in someone’s life.”

***

Now a senior at Sentinel High School, Jaden is overwhelmed by what her simple actions have become.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said about the recent revelation that her efforts inspired the Dandelion Foundation’s creation.

“I’m still in shock over it,” said Jaden, who thought she had been invited to the foundation’s banquet just to sing.

She sang “Concrete Angel” during the event before realizing she was the guest of honor and receiving an award, time in a recording studio to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer and a necklace symbolizing child abuse.

She also received a check for $1,000, which she emotionally delivered to Watson Children’s Shelter on Wednesday and which will be used to provide normalcy for the children who are in the shelter because of abusive and crisis situations.

Hertel didn’t tell Jaden or Donelle who he was until the awards ceremony, when he pulled aside his jacket to reveal a wooden, heart-shaped pin he has kept through the years.

The kinship was instant. “We met Saturday and there was just this automatic connection,” Jaden said.

After graduation from Sentinel this spring, Jaden plans to become a nurse and said the recent recognition makes her want to continue to raise awareness about child abuse regardless of where she ends up attending college.

“It honestly just makes me want to go do more,” she said, adding that people shouldn’t be afraid or uncomfortable to talk about abuse.

Her story shows that people don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a positive impact, she said. “Anybody can make a difference.”

The interconnected sequence of events over the past decade has an even deeper meaning to Donelle, who was in an abusive relationship at the time Jaden was born but left after the second time Jaden was nearly injured.

Years later, Jaden wanted to help, without even realizing she had been a victim herself as a newborn, Donelle said. “And I remember just sitting there thinking, you have no idea – and someday you will – but you have no idea what you’re doing right now for a little girl that easily could have been you.”

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Child abuse, neglect cases rise in Missoula County

The number of child neglect and abuse cases in Missoula County has more than tripled since 2011. -The Missoulian

The number of child neglect and abuse cases in Missoula County has more than tripled since 2011.

The Missoula Office of the Public Defender says there has been a total of 357 open child neglect and abuse cases in fiscal year 2013.

Officials tell the Missoulian (bit.ly/1a0w8KW) that’s up from 283 open cases in 2012 and 95 open cases in 2011.

Regional Deputy Public Defender Dave Stenerson says the increase is denting the agency’s financial resources and overwhelming staff.

“It’s been a big drain on our organization statewide for the last two or three years,” Stenerson said.

The public defender’s office in 2013 spent more than $700,000 on child neglect and abuse cases, adding up to nearly 17 percent of the total amount spent by the office.

Officials said the office is required to hire outside attorneys to represent all the individuals in each case. That means the mother and father have separate attorneys. Sometimes children may also need an attorney.

Stenerson said child neglect cases weren’t considered in the budget when the public defender’s office became a statewide agency in 2006.

“Every two years, we go back and say, `Look this wasn’t included in the original budget, we need more money and we need more people,'” Stenerson said. “The Legislature looks at it and says, `Well, if we increase your agency by this percentage, then it’s going to look bad – like we are growing government.'”

Stenerson said a possible reason for the increase in cases is Child and Family Services increasing the number of cases it petitions to file in the court system. That agency itself has come under scrutiny after some child abuse cases sparked community outrage.

“I think that resulted in a statewide increase of more aggressive filings of petitions, rather than trying to work with families and do this without getting into court,” Stenerson said.

However, Montana Child and Family Services administrator Sarah Corbally said an increase in the number of neglect and abuse reports is whey there are more court cases. The agency in 2010 reported 724 cases in Missoula County. That rose to 835 in 2011 and 843 in 2012.

Corbally said the financial strains of a difficult economy could be part of the reason for child neglect and abuse cases. She also noted that an increase in Missoula of prescription drug abuse and meth could be part of the cause.

Public defender Kelli Sather estimates that 60 percent of the child abuse and neglect cases in Missoula County are dismissed, while 40 percent lead to a child being permanently removed from a home.

She said only a small percentage of her cases are abuse cases. Most of her clients, she said, are dealing with substance abuse, mental health problems or homelessness, tending to lead to child neglect.

Missoula’s Albrecht appointed to Board of Regents

September 07, 2013 6:00 am   •  by Martin Kidston – The Missoulian

Gov. Steve Bullock appointed a Missoula nonprofit leader and University of Montana adjunct professor to the Board of Regents on Friday, filling a position vacated this spring by Pat Williams.

Fran Maronick Albrecht, executive director of the Watson Children’s Shelter, met with the governor last week before accepting the position.

She’ll attend her first regents meeting this month in Butte.

“I’m delighted and honored by the appointment,” Albrecht said Friday. “It’s something that aligns with my own philosophy and belief in serving others, and my belief in higher education.”

Albrecht, 43, is joining the board as the Legislature looks to fund schools within the Montana University System based on performance. Cost and access to higher education remain leading topics, as does workforce development.

Albrecht said she’ll bring her skills as a nonprofit and community leader to represent the interest of students across the issues.

“I’m excited to work in a collaborative manner to further the goals that will help us make Montana’s higher education system very effective, and to meet the goals of students, particularly with regard to affordability and access, and meeting the economic development needs of Montana,” she said.

Albrecht said she’d withhold her opinions on the placement of Missoula College until she fully understood the needs of students and the community at large.

The university is looking to build Missoula College on the South Campus – a plan that already has been approved by regents and the Montana University System.

However, UM also is considering an alternative site on East Broadway, and school officials are expected to hold public forums soon on that possibility.

“I’m open to exploring whatever options are reasonable, as long as it meets the needs of students and meets the long-range plans that support a greater vision,” she said.

Albrecht has worked at Watson Children’s Shelter for 16 years and currently serves as an adjunct professor at UM, teaching nonprofit administration.

A Great Falls native, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Gonzaga University and her master’s from Montana State University-Billings.

“Education, particularly access to higher education, is an opportunity for any student, any young person, to leverage their economic capital and quality of life,” she said.

“When I consider all the opportunities within our state and the needs surrounding economic and workforce development, it’s a critical time for us to look at the role of higher education.”

The Legislature in April declined to confirm Williams’ appointment to the Board of Regents over comments he made regarding University of Montana football players.

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