Posted: Dec 9, 2012 9:09 PM by Bernie Riggs – KPAX News

Watch the news video HERE

MISSOULA – Children of abuse and neglect rely on a safe place and in In Missoula, that’s the Watson Children’s Shelter, which is now facing a big problem, it’s maxing out.

While no one has been turned away yet, it’s now a possibility as the shelter is housing 32 kids, the most they’ve ever seen. More children mean more costs.

State Child and Family Services provides 60% percent of the cost per child at the shelter, with the rest of the funds coming from the community.

A home tour took place Sunday and many folks came out to show their generosity. One birthday girl, who visited the shelter, asked for her friends to provide gifts to a few Watson children with upcoming birthdays.

Another girl donated a brand new bike she won in a contest, and one grown-up visitor had some history to share.

“A young woman, who came in with her mother, who was 19, walked through, and it was special experience for her because she thanked us for caring for her when she lived here seven years ago,” Watson Children’s Shelter Executive Director Fran Albrecht said.

The home is still accepting holiday gifts, and volunteers, donations, and pantry or toiletry items are always needed. There are several children under five right now, so pull-ups are a popular item.

December 03, 2012 5:53 am  •  by Betsy Cohen – The Missoulian

If year-end giving is on your mind and charity is in your heart, know this: Watson Children’s Shelter has hit full capacity.

In other words, there’s no more room at the emergency shelter for children who are in need of a safe place to live.

“Both of our children’s shelters are completely full – all 16 beds in each house are taken and that is our capacity: 32,” said Fran Albrecht, the shelter’s executive director. “We have been experiencing high numbers of children in need for some time now, and I was hopeful we would not hit full capacity because we don’t want to be turning children away.”

So far, the shelter hasn’t had to turn a child away, as a few children stay for just a few days and there is a little bit of turnover, Albrecht said.

Nevertheless, the emergency housing is in high demand and the costs associated with taking care of two full shelters are significant.

Albrecht is unclear why the shelter’s monthly average of 24 children has surged to full capacity.

“I don’t know what is going on, but what I can guess is that essentially this is a delayed reaction to our community and the stress families are experiencing economically and otherwise,” she said Sunday.

Studies show that parents facing excessive financial stress, limited family support and poor decision making are often what lead to child abuse or neglect.

“It is not uncommon for an average of 30 percent of children in our care to have a parent who is incarcerated,” Albrecht said. “That is true today.”

In these trying times, and as the holidays inch closer, Albrecht said she is grateful that Watson Children’s Shelter has the ability to welcome all these children in need.

Because Watson is an emergency shelter, there is no waiting list. Should a child be in need of a safe haven and the shelter has no room, other options will be explored, such as reaching out to relatives of that child or finding temporary foster care for the children.


“We have a contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which licenses us and provides fees for service for us to cover basic care,” Albrecht said. “But that covers only 60 percent of the actual cost of caring for these children, and we are continually making up the remaining 40 percent difference in order to provide for the children.”

“The biggest and one of the largest sources of help comes from the people in our community – especially with year-end giving,” she said. “Five dollars to $25 from a lot of individual people really adds up, and that’s how we cover our remaining expenses.

“And the reality is, these children have nowhere else to go.”

The shelter takes in children ages 15 months to 14 years old, and the average length of stay is around 50 days.

“That length of time gives families and child protection services the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and the time to find longer-term placement for the children,” Albrecht said.

While the increase in the number of children in need is troubling, the timing of the need couldn’t be more poignant.

“We are preventing children from further abuse and neglect and giving them a chance in the safety and care of our homes,” Albrecht said. “But it makes it emotionally more difficult knowing how close we are to Christmas. When most of us think of Christmas, we think of family.

“We will provide a wonderful experience for these children – thanks to the community. But the reality is that there is a void in every child’s heart when they aren’t with family, and that’s not by choice.”

by Betsy Cohen – The Missoulian

A multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign is a challenge at any time.

But when Watson Children’s Shelter launched a three-year public effort to raise $4.4 million in 2007 to build a second facility, the nonprofit organization had no idea the Great Recession was on the horizon, that major employers in western Montana would be closing or downsizing, that unemployment would shoot up and that many people with jobs would see their stock market investments tumble.

“It was about the worst time for us to be fundraising,” said Fran Albrecht, executive director of the shelter. “But we had to persevere. We had no choice.

“We needed to grow. We were turning kids away because we had no room for them, and that was heartbreaking.”

Watson Children’s Shelter provides emergency care for western Montana children from infancy to age 14 who have been the victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment.

Each year, the shelter’s 16-bed facility on Fort Missoula Road provides for more than 100 children, and offers a safe, homelike environment and professional services to give them another chance at childhood.

Now, thanks to the generous hands and hearts of western Montana, the nonprofit has a second home on Buckhouse Lane that can accommodate another 16 children.

“To me, there’s a lot of heaviness in the world and this is a reason to celebrate,” Albrecht said on Sunday while giving a tour of the new 17,000-square-foot Craftsman-style home. “There were times when we really doubted our ability to see to the end of this campaign successfully, but we did.”

As of this month, the fundraising campaign is officially over and the target goal has been hit.

“This is a remarkable achievement for all of western Montana,” Albrecht said. “There are so many people and so many stories to tell about how this all came to be.”

Money and sweat equity came from all over: From lemonade stand donations, to penny collection jars at St. Joseph School, to significant hard cash donations from community leaders such as Terry Payne, to a newlywed couple who asked that any wedding gifts be donations to the campaign, to carpenters who donated expert hands-on work, and other professionals who gave in-kind support.

“I get teared up just thinking about it,” Albrecht said. “The pressure to make this happen was extreme and the anxiety was great, but every time it seemed like we couldn’t get passed an obstacle, some door would open that would renew our faith.”

Montana’s congressional delegation help direct a total of $1.25 million in federal funds to the project and Missoula’s generous spirit rallied again and again to help, she said.

The Rotary Club of Missoula, for instance, was so moved by the need and the shelter’s valued work, it stepped forward with the club’s largest donation ever and provided the funding to build an entire wing of home where the children sleep, and paid for a well endowed laundry room with banks of appliances.

“We faced many hurdles along the way – a down economy, failing at our first attempt for federal funding, building permit issues,” Albrecht said, “but we persevered with help from everywhere we turned.”


Because the facility serves young children, CTA Architects in Missoula made every effort to design a home that is user-friendly and exceptionally comfortable for little people.

Low countertops, easy to access cupboards and closets are among the many child-friendly features of home, which also includes furniture that is just their size.

“Even though they come here for really awful reasons, we see so much good here,” Albrecht said. “The minute children come here they are welcomed by a staff that is trained to work with kids who experience trauma.

“They receive a safe place to live and play, and that change in their life is immediate. You see these kids change, and the schools see these kids change – they become more confident, they engage with others and they take better care of themselves.”

Since construction of the Buckhouse Lane home was completed in July, dozens of children have been given the gift of refuge and help there.

All is in place to serve and protect these young people, and thanks to western Montana, their future is bright.

“This is a celebration for everyone because we are taking care of more kids from across Western Montana,” Albrecht said. “We can welcome more kids into the safety of our home, this home, which is all about saving lives.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at

“As we care for more children than ever, this grant from Liberty Mutual Foundation is timely and significant, as it supports our ability to provide for every precious child who walks through our door,” Albrecht said in a news release.

MISSOULA- Some much needed help is on the way to the Watson Children’s Shelter.

Executive Director Fran Albrecht says they’ve been given a $10,000 grant from the Liberty Mutual Foundation, which will be used to help the non-profit continue “to welcome over 100 children annually in need of a safe nurturing home due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or family crisis.”

“As we care for more children than ever, this grant from Liberty Mutual Foundation is timely and significant, as it supports our ability to provide for every precious child who walks through our door,” Albrecht said in a news release.

The grant was one of $1 million dollars in grants distributed to non-profit organizations as part of Liberty Mutual Insurance’s 100th anniversary celebration and Watson Children’s Shelter was the only Montana recipient.

“I commend Liberty Mutual Foundation for celebrating and bolstering the longstanding commitment the wonderful employees at Liberty Mutual have for the children at Watson Children’s Shelter.” said Albrecht.