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Feb 1, 2013 3:16 PM by Laura Wilson - KAJ News

Advocating for children in Flathead County

KALISPELL - The Children's Advocacy Center has seen a 96% percent success rate when it comes to prosecuting child abuse offenders in Flathead County.

This comes at a time when child abuse is on the rise statewide, but is that enough to keep Montana's children from slipping through the cracks?

Reporter Laura Wilson went on special assignment to find out who children's' advocate groups are calling on for help.

"Imagine this: a girl in middle school with sad and horrible memories, that would be me. I went through lots of horrible things with my brother. I want to walk those feet back in the past and tell you," middle school student Thea Horton explained.

During a recent Language Arts assignment, 11-year-old Horton and her classmates were asked to write about their family history, prompting most of the class to reach back hundreds of years and share where their ancestors came from.

But for Thea, it was finally her chance to share with her peers where she came from, no matter how painful it was to relive.

"I got beat up very severely. After I got beaten up, my mom would hug me. My brother and I got taken away," she recalled.

Montana has seen a steady increase of children in its' foster care system since 2009, a statistic that has not gone unnoticed by the state, or Flathead County.

"What we're involved in is that immediate intervention right after that traumatic experience, such as crime, that has occurred. It is a systematic coordination of all agencies involved," said Flathead County Children's Advocacy Center MDT Director Devin Kuntz.

When a child is removed from and abusive family or dangerous situation in Flathead County, they are taken to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where they receive counseling and medical attention. But that is only the beginning of their rehabilitation process.

"We have to have an army of families. I think it's all about the right fit. If you're fostering, or for state workers to be able to have enough families to choose from, so the children don't have to move multiple times. It's really critical," Mary Byron with Child Share Montana told us.

There are a total of 62 licensed foster families, kinship care, and youth foster homes in Flathead County, which 83 children are currently calling home.

"There's definitely not enough places for the children that require foster care or foster homes. Child abuse is, by and large, a community problem. Right now, they're having to go to Missoula or further into the state where people have those places already implemented. It affects everybody. If more people could and would step up, all the better," Kuntz said.

But one Kalispell couple is stepping up in a big way.

"We have eight kids that live in our home, five of them are adopted," adoptive and foster parent Tamara Horton said.

"We just feel blessed to have them in our lives," added Nate Horton.

With an already full house, the Hortons are now looking to fill another one, with children looking for a place to call home - called Harmony Acres.

"We are envisioning a home for kids that is family oriented. It would be an institution, but we don't want it to be institutional-feeling," Nate explained.

"We will be privately funded. We will need to ask the community, and the churches, and individuals in the area if they feel this is a worthwhile cause, and to get behind us and support us," he added.

Amidst all of the fundraising for local children in need, the Hortons says they never forget to tell their own children how much they love them each day, including Thea.

"Now that I'm adopted, I feel cared for, loved, adored, and safe," the 11-year-old said.

"Normally, I do not feel safe. I do now, because I started to tell my dad the old things that happened to me. I'm looking forward to the future. I want my children to have a better life than I do. You never know. If you adopt a kid, you might change their life. It sure changed mine," Thea added.

You can learn more about Harmony Acres by clicking here. Information on foster care services in general can be found here.


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