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The Department of Public Health and Human Services building in Helena.

The Department of Public Health and Human Services building in Helena.

The state Department of Public Health and Human Services has created a new division focused on supporting children and families.

The new division is called the Early Childhood and Family Support Division. It is meant to encompass existing programs that address child care licensing, early childhood services, intervention services for young children who have developmental delays, nutrition programs for kids, home visits and health programs for children, teens and families.

Jamie Palagi, who will lead the new division, said the idea developed as the department worked toward having more of its programs meant to help children and families work together instead of in their own silos.

There was also a needs assessment, conducted last year, that reviewed the state's early childhood system and found combining programs could reduce duplication of efforts.

"All of those programs have worked together and are part of the department and supporting the department strategic plan and vision, and now they'll work more closely together," Palagi said Thursday.

The division will have about 100 employees. No jobs are being created or cut, said health department director Sheila Hogan.

"We are not (13) divisions, we are a department. We've worked really hard to braid resources and work together as a department," Hogan said.

The programs that will move under the division are the Early Childhood Services Bureau, the Family and Community Health Bureau, Child Care Licensing, the No Kid Hungry program, Montana Milestones Part C, the Family Education and Support Program and the Montana Children's Trust Fund.

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Hogan said programs starting to work together has been part of the reason the number of children entering out-of-home care has decreased. She cited things like state workers being better able to connect people with services like home visits, which brings health care and social workers to families who need extra support. That helps address issues early on, before they become more serious, Hogan said.

Palagi used as an example the Part C program, where providers work with children who have developmental disabilities. Those providers have recognized there are gaps in the child care available for the children they work with. But the part of the health department that deals with child care didn't work that closely with Part C providers, so the two programs didn't connect to understand common issues and talk about ways to address them.

In addition to using information from the needs assessment, Palagi and Hogan said they consulted with providers the department contracts with and its own employees, as well as union representatives, in creating the new division.

The department posted the opening for the division administrator internally and selected Palagi from a group of three finalists. Palagi has been with the department for 14 years, and spent the last eight years as the Human and Community Services Division administrator.

Hogan said they hope to have the entire division under one roof, but that's still a work in progress.

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