“Little child, dry your crying eyes…” a passionate guitarist emotionally strummed his rendition of White Lion’s “When the Children Cry.” The lyrics take their toll on his audience, which is full of folks rallying for foster care reform in Montana.
“I wish I had a relationship with my daughter. I miss my son so much. It’s not right what they did to my family. It’s not right that I have to live without remaining family members,” said Kirk Eakin, a father who believes his children were unjustly taken out of his custody.
In 2013, Eakin’s eldest daughter accused him of sexual abuse. Eakin denies the allegations. He took a polygraph test in an attempt to prove his innocence. However, Child Protective Services took two of his children into their custody.
“For me to go and have that done, I think that speaks to a lot. I did psychosexual evaluations, I did all the testing they wanted. It didn’t’ matter in the end. The justice system failed my family,” said Eakin.
The Eakin family case isn’t an isolated one. The Our Kids Cry Too Rally brought out dozens of families, many saying children are wrongly being stripped away from their parents. The non-profit, Montana Child Protection Alliance, hosted a rally on the steps of the Capitol in hopes of changing the child protection system.
“Right now in our state, criminals have more rights than parents. I’ve had families that don’t even meet their attorney until their hearing,” said Denise Johnson, a Board Member Montana Child Protection Alliance.
Johnson says there are more than 4,000 Montana children currently in the foster care system, which she says is more than twice the national average. She helped put together today’s rally in hopes it will raise awareness for the problem.
“I believe one of the best things we can do is have an appropriate parental, legal advocacy program that would give them legal representation with expectation that they know family law and timelines are met,” said Johnson.
Johnson doesn’t blame a single organization for the problems. She says public defenders and police are often over-burdened, which makes in-depth investigations nearly impossible.
“I truly don’t think we’d be in this crisis is everyone was following the law. It’s not just the CPS system that is broken, its creating waves into other systems,” said Johnson.
Sheila Hogan, Director for The Department of Public Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS released a statement on the event. They said, in part: “Much progress has been made to bring forward new initiatives to help strengthen the state’s child protection system and other systems that help ensure Montana’s kids are safe. We appreciate our hardworking staff and community partners who recognize preventing child abuse and neglect is a community effort. This work is ongoing, and we are excited about the progress we’ve already seen in both our prevention work and in child welfare to help strengthen families and keep children safe.”
Hogan also noted that the department has launched a variety of new initiatives to help stop child neglect.