Red-state Montana ‘medical kidnapping’ case cries out for reforms

What could be more demonic than parents abusing their children? A close second might be when a state government wrongly accuses parents of child abuse, seizes the child without due process, and subjects the child to “treatment” that involves chemical castration and genital mutilation.

Given the imbalance of power between the state and parents, the pendulum has swung too far in favor of the state. If ever red-state legislatures needed to reform “child welfare” laws, now would be a good time.

The severity of a removal should be treated like a criminal proceeding in terms of evidentiary standards and due process.

Krista and Todd Kolstad, a couple in Glasgow, Montana, accuse Montana Child and Family Services of medically kidnapping their mentally ill 14-year-old daughter and placing her in a facility giving her transgender “transitioning therapy” against the will of her legal parents.

The Kolstads’ nightmare began in August 2023, when their daughter came home from school expressing suicidal thoughts. A visit from CFS stewarded them through a process of hospitalization at a Montana facility. Todd and Krista now accuse the hospital’s staff of purposely encouraging their daughter to embrace her mental illness and addressing her by the name of “Leo.”

In September, CFS officials moved the girl to a facility in Wyoming and prevented her parents from seeing her. She was then returned to Montana under their auspices, but on January 19 a judge ruled the daughter would remain in CFS custody for six months with the goal of sending her to Canada to live with her biological mother. Stepmom Krista claims the biological mother from Todd’s first marriage had been out of the picture “for years.”

These are grave accusations — and not the sort of scenario you would imagine playing out in a rural red state. If even a fraction of the Kolstads’ account is true, it raises serious questions about the usefulness of Montana’s executive branch.

When national conservatives reacted to the story with outrage earlier this week, Republican Governor Greg Gianforte responded on X (formerly Twitter) that his lieutenant governor looked into the case and concluded, “DPHHS and the court have followed state policy and law in their handling of this tragic case.”

In a later statement, Gianforte spokeswoman Kaitlin Price didn’t directly rebut the Koldstads’ specific allegations. Instead, she clarified that “broadly speaking, the state does not remove minors from homes to provide gender transition services or use taxpayer funds to pay for those services while a minor is in the custody of the state.”

Because child removal cases are confidential, we are only getting one side of the story. But what we can say for sure, as we delve into the facts of this case, is that the balance of power has swung too far in favor of the state’s authority to remove children and that Gianforte has a record of weakness on this issue.

Gianforte last year vetoed HB 37, which would have required CFS case workers to obtain a judicial warrant before removing a child, ensured that substance use and disorderly living conditions do not equate to physical or psychological harm, and required courts to schedule initial hearings more quickly. Gianforte vetoed the bill. Though it had passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, legislators could not muster enough votes for an override.

In this era of woke and weaponized medical and education professions, we cannot afford a “guilty until proven innocent” standard that allows state officials to remove a child if the parents don’t subscribe to a political or social agenda. We already saw how Maine tried to allow the state to remove children if parents don’t go along with their ephemeral gender dysphoria.

One of the core problems in family court is that child removal is treated like a divorce proceeding. The process is different from a criminal trial. Most parents would rather spend a few months in jail than lose a child to the authorities. So the severity of a removal should be treated like a criminal proceeding in terms of evidentiary standards and due process.

To rectify this, we need every red state to ensure its laws accommodate the following:

  • Require a judicial warrant before removal except in extraordinary cases;
  • Questioning medical treatment or seeking a second opinion should not be grounds for removing a child. The parent should have the final say when it comes to medical decisions;
  • Only a known instance of abuse or neglect can trigger an investigation or removal;
  • A parent’s medical, political, or religious beliefs or decisions cannot be grounds for removing a child;
  • All state agencies should be barred from supporting or fostering transgender “medical care,” counseling, or the use of preferred pronouns;
  • Impose civil penalties on anyone — public employee or private citizen — who files false claims of abuse;
  • Require that reports to abuse hotlines include the name and address of the accuser.

Additionally, Texas last year passed HB 730, which requires child protective case workers to notify parents of their right to refuse searches, drug tests, and interviews with children. That idea needs to go viral.

Montana’s legislature is out of session until next year with no recourse to reform CFS. Gianforte owes conservatives a special session anyway to address skyrocketing property taxes. While ensuring that the state doesn’t confiscate land with confiscatory taxes, lawmakers should also convene a session to ensure the state cannot confiscate children so easily. If the government must intervene, let’s make sure kids don’t wind up suffering the ultimate form of physical abuse at the hands of the state.

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