Around two dozen people gathered outside the state Capitol Thursday morning to decry the separation of families by Montana's Children and Family Services Division.
The "Our Kids Cry Too" rally was organized by the Montana Child Protection Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of children's rights in Montana and advocating for due process.
According to the organization's secretary Georgia Miller, the group formed to "promote the fact that (CFS) is broken."
"They're failing everywhere," Miller said. "We're here as a group to form solutions for state government and to try and help children have better outcomes."
The name of Thursday's event was intended to draw parallels between CPS removing children from homes deemed unsafe and the U.S. government separating children from their parents while illegally crossing the Mexico border into the United States.
Denise Johnson, one of the organization's board members, said there was "so much outcry at the border, but where's the outcry for Montana kids?"
The organization believes state officials should be doing more to keep families together, which is a goal of Montana's Family Policy Act.
The Montana Department of Health and Human Services receives about 35,000 calls to the Child Abuse Hotline each year, spokesman Jon Ebelt said in an email. About 10,000 of those calls require an investigation, and 23 percent of those result in a finding that child abuse and neglect did occur, he added.
According to DPHHS statistics, 65 percent of all child removals by the state involve illegal drug use, and two-thirds of those involve methamphetamine.
"The safety of children is paramount. The determination to remove a child isn’t taken lightly and involves several layers of oversight, including by CFSD supervisors and the courts," Ebelt said.
Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte both sent representatives to the rally. Through letters that were read to the crowd, they affirmed the work being done by the Montana Child Protection Alliance and expressed support for the Family First Prevention Services Act, which gives states and counties funding to provide struggling parents with addiction treatment and other services so their children can stay home instead of being placed in foster care.
The organization plans to push for addiction help and evidence-based programs to keep families together.
"It's more successful to keep children with the mom," Johnson said. "It works well if the family is intact."