Hundreds of children are eligible, but insufficient funding to find a home

The list of foster children who legally belong to the state of Colorado has 533 names.

Among them is a 15-year-old girl who has lived in 26 locations since being placed in foster care and became available for adoption at the age of 10. Another is a 19-year-old man who spent 226 months – over 18 – as a foster child, according to a list provided to The Sun by the state’s child welfare division. .

All have seen a judge cut off their birth parents’ rights to keep them, but not all say they want a new family.

Now the state’s department of social services is asking Colorado to fund a new state-level employee whose only job will be to help the children on the list to be adopted – a staff member to monitor how many time children wait for permanent homes in all 64 counties.

Colorado already has nine recruiters, also known as youth advocates, whose positions are funded by two nonprofits and state and county taxes. They specialize in in-depth exploration of children’s records for parents, family friends, teachers, coaches and others who may adopt them. But these recruiters work primarily in the 20 counties that contribute financially to the program.

A new state employee would not only help counties that lack a recruiting specialist, but monitor the Colorado County-run child welfare system to make sure no child waits too long to find an adoptive family, according to a budget request to the legislature. from the Colorado Department of Social Services.

The request to the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee was part of a call for $ 421,448 for four new state-level positions to improve the child welfare system, including another worker to monitor safety in residential centers for children with foster families.

A new tenure specialist – focused on finding permanent housing – would serve as a “resource and impetus” for the county’s social workers, said state duty chief Korey Elger. The person would look at the data statewide and say to the counties, “Hey, what’s going on? We’ve had this kid here for a very long time, ”she said.

The duty specialists provide another set of eyes to help busy social workers who spend most of their time investigating allegations of abuse and neglect and finding safe places for children to live in the area. haste if they are removed from their parents. By rummaging through files, interviewing contacts and talking to children, specialists may find a long-lost uncle the child knew when he was 5 or the parents of a close friend at school. who are ready to adopt, Elger said.

“Our advocates are the ones who can reach out and talk to this uncle if this social worker is busy,” she said.

Colorado has 8,603 children with open cases in the child welfare system, and of these, 3,785 have been removed from their homes and are living in foster families or in group homes or residential centers. .

Of the 533 children who are legally free to adopt because their parents’ rights have been removed, 380 say they want to be adopted.

The goal is that no child wait more than two years to be adopted – yet Colorado’s list of children awaiting adoption includes 278 children who have waited at least that long.

The list does not go on and on and has actually shrunk in recent years as Colorado has focused on not removing children from their biological families in the first place. But the needs of children on the adoption list have become more complex, Elger said, noting that children are emotionally scarred by more trauma than in the past and enter the system with mental illness and health issues. more acute behavioral.

And children with special needs take longer to be adopted – as do older children, especially those aged 9 and over, children who identify as gay or transgender, and black children, in particular. black teens. The analyzes come from a 2015 study of 5,700 children and adolescents legally available for adoption from 2008 to 2014 in Colorado. The research, conducted by the state’s department of social services, found that more time was needed to find adoptive homes for children with a higher number of foster placements and for those who passed. time in an institutional setting – a residential center – rather than with host families.

According to research, black Colorado children waited longer to be adopted than other races, regardless of their age.

Of the state’s current list of 533 legally free adoptive children, 99 are black.

“You don’t want to suffer anymore”

The list of children legally free to adopt includes 164 who say they don’t even want to be adopted.

Under Colorado law, children in the system aged 12 and older have a say in their “tenure goal” – and many say they are considering breaking out of the foster care system. welcome to live alone.

But that doesn’t mean the nine permanent Colorado detectives aren’t looking into their case.

“When a judge asks, ‘Do you want to be adopted, they say no,'” said Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which was founded by the same Dave Thomas who started Wendy’s restaurants and funds Colorado’s nine adoption recruiters. “They don’t want to go through rejection, trauma, or they don’t want to be disloyal to their biological family.”

A sign decorates a post at Camp to Belong, which brings together siblings separated by host families. Douglas County Camp accepts Colorado children and their siblings no matter where they live. (Jennifer Brown, The Colorado Sun)

Some change their minds after speaking to a recruiter, who helps them “understand the value of family”, in part by asking questions about their future, for example, who will attend their graduation or wedding, she declared.

“The only thing they’re thinking about is getting out of the system,” Soronen said.

Often, saying no to adoption is a form of self-preservation. “You don’t want to suffer anymore… if you’ve lived in places and they’ve said they don’t want to be your long-term placement,” Elger said, with the state. “It’s easier to say no to them than to have someone say no to you again. ”

The Dave Thomas Foundation launched the Intensive Adoption Recruitment Program in 2004, starting in seven locations across the country. Today, the organization has 470 youth advocates in 50 states, including nine in Colorado. The intensive recruiting model, according to a 2007 foundation analysis, is three times more effective than the status quo – which in many states includes traditional case work and marketing campaigns such as websites with photos of children available.

“How do we deal with this notion that children age in foster care when our job is to get them adopted? Soronen said. “How not to fail them over and over and over again?” ”

Since Colorado began partnering with the national foundation in 2005, recruiters have found permanent homes for 190 children. On average, these children had lived in six foster care settings and had been in the system for three years.

Almost half of them – 48% – had already been adopted once and had been returned to the state in what is called a “disturbed” adoption.

Colorado’s nine youth advocates are currently helping 133 children find adoptive families, or about 14 children per advocate.

In Colorado last year, 187 young people emancipated themselves from foster families without returning to their families or being adopted. 126 others fled.

Almost 700 have been adopted.

44 counties are not part of the adoption recruitment program

Colorado Foundation-funded adoption recruiters are housed at Raise the Future, a regional nonprofit that seeks to find children’s homes and also contributes financially to the program.

“We recognize how incredibly busy and overworked social workers are,” said Jill Crewes, Colorado vice president of programs at Raise the Future. “This program gives us the opportunity to support stakeholders and offer this additional support.

The agency, with offices in Colorado, Utah and Nevada, also posts photographs and short biographies of children looking for a home online. Among them is My’Kail, a sophomore from Colorado who enjoys LEGOs, bowling, pizza, dogs, and scooters. In his photo, My’Kail has a huge smile on his face as he hugs the Toy Story figures.

In addition to the photo gallery run by Raise the Future, state officials say they have success with a new application form launched on the CO4Kids website in January 2020. The goal was to streamline the adoption process in the country. instead of forcing potential families to find the right one to contact the local county child welfare division or adoption agency.

People can fill out the application form on the state website and it is automatically sent to the right people. So far, over 3,000 people have submitted one.

Counties and child placement agencies are also seeing greater attendance at foster care and adoption information evenings since the pandemic pushed events onto virtual platforms, making it easier for families to attend. people, Elger said.

She hopes the addition of a state-level permanence specialist will help Colorado further reduce the list of children awaiting adoption and, in particular, give small rural counties access to a recruitment specialist when they are having difficulty finding a foster home for a child in their system.

Currently, 44 counties are not part of the program. The 20 participants are Adams, Alamosa, Denver, Douglas, Rio Blanco, Larimer, Pueblo, Teller, Jefferson, Park, Rio Grande, Mesa, Lincoln, Costilla, El Paso, Otero, Morgan, Saguache, Conejos and Logan.

The state will sometimes select a difficult-to-place foster child for the program, no matter where they live, but the extra support would help more children statewide, Elger said, recalling a recent case in which a county social worker and state officials worked together to find a home for a young girl.

The child wanted to live with his aunt, but the aunt could not afford to take care of her. Child welfare officials contacted the state’s Medicaid department and were able to secure a place for the girl in one of the state’s Medicaid programs for people with disabilities, which covered many of the expenses that the aunt feared she could not afford, Elger said.

And the girl was adopted.

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