A national effort to get orphans or other kids in trouble out of group homes and into foster care has local providers scrambling.
Local foster parent recruiter Michelle Champagne said the Adams County Foster Care program is having a foster care shortage thanks to the changes.
“The federal government decided that group homes weren’t good for children and people in child welfare also agree,” Champagne said. “No matter what their age they should not be raised in a group home environment.”
The Family First Family First act was signed into law in December of 2017 but was finally implemented this past October, requiring all group homes be phased out.
“There would be up to 8 to 12 kids raised in a group home, it’s not an ideal home environment. Group homes over the last couple of years have been phasing those out and putting more kids with foster families,” Champagne said.
Not all group homes have closed and there are a few open, especially residential care facilities. It’s for the more difficult kids that are significantly developmentally delayed children and kids who have run in with the law with some offenses. They cannot be placed in foster homes, she said.
“With that process, we have an outside independent assessment done to see if they qualify for these specific levels of homes,” said Champagne.
Champagne said she has worked in child welfare since 1999. As a recruiter, her job is to find foster parents to place the kids. They receive referrals from different places in the community, so social worker goes out to the home and investigate for any kind of abuse or neglect.
“It’s a long process so after the professionals deem there is a need to remove children from their families to keep them safe temporarily it then go through the courts. The courts have final jurisdiction over everything and place all the decisions we make on recommendations, and then the judges make decisions,” said Michelle Champagne, Adams County Foster Parent Recruiter, Human Services.
When a judge finally decides to remove these children, the recruiter starts a process to look for family first.
“We start by trying to find an aunt, uncle or a cousin, or even somebody like a psychological family member, maybe a neighbor, teacher, or best friends of parents, then we try to place those kids in a more natural environment, “said Champagne. “If we can’t find relatives then we place children into foster care.”
Champagne, said the younger kids, such as are infants up to age six, are easy to place. Most people that become foster parents want to parent the little ones. They call their younger charges the “littles”.
“A lot of foster parents are intimidated to foster, middle or older kids,” said Champagne.
When the kids are placed in foster and if things go great, the parent is doing everything they need to do, then they could bring the child back home.
“That is the best outcome,” Champagne said. “The older kids are a little bit more challenging because we don’t have enough foster homes for our older kids.”
The family first act is very detailed with the goal of prevention, so now before they remove children lots of money is going to be spent on prevention, services and to prevent having to remove children.
Far from home
Unfortunately, some kids don’t have family or friends to care for them.
Champagne said, “This group of kids we end up placing far away from their communities because we just don’t have enough foster homes that are willing and able to take our teenagers or middle school and high school kids.”
This situation is not ideal to send them out of state because they are in high school, have friends, might have a job or after school or other social activities, such as marching band or playing on the football team. Being ripped away is hard for them.
“Every time kids move, they lose some piece of their education such as credits, then they get behind, and then they don’t graduate. It could be awful outcomes if we can’t stabilize them and have some permanency,” said Champagne. “We need more foster parents in the area.”
Champagne currently has a 16-year-old to place and there is not a foster home to place them in Colorado.
“We have started looking at other metro counties for an open foster home for this child. We keep moving farther out of metro area south to Colorado Springs, and Grand Junction,” said Champagne. “We have kids placed in every corner of our state, and sometimes out of state. We just don’t have the places here.”
Colorado’s foster care program is in the process of developing a therapeutic program to identify working professionals with specialized skills to serve as therapeutic foster parents. That could include teachers, law enforcement, therapists and social workers.
“They will have more trauma training, and the ability to understand the harder kids. But we still need people for your average teenager as well,” she said. “We need people to step up in our community.”
Champagne said the new program will allow social workers to do some digging to find family members they might have overlooked initially. That could involve taking a look at their parents again, and see if they’re in a better space to be able to safely have their children returned home -which would be ideal, she said.
To learn about the foster care program and to participate visit: