Away from home

Social Services aims to help parents at risk of losing rights

In 2004, Moffat County Department of Social Services placed 27 children in new homes. A year later, 43 children were removed from unhealthy home environments.

In 75 percent of the removal cases, parental methamphetamine use was a factor. The problem didn't get much better in 2006, Social Services Director Marie Peer said.

"I think even though the number is down, our average is higher," Peer said. "(Meth) has been something that has hurt families and hurt children tremendously in this community."

Last year, Social Services' caseworkers placed 39 children in the care of relatives, foster homes, adoptive parents or treatment centers. Peer said rough estimates indicate 83 percent of those removal cases were because of parental meth use.

"If a parent is using meth, there is no choice," she said. "They simply can't take care of their kids."

The 2005 and 2006 out-of-home placement numbers are among the highest in the county's recent history.

"You'd have to go back to the early '80s to even be close," Peer said, citing the decade's influx of new families stemming from increased energy development.

The out-of-home placement numbers are part of Social Services' 2006 annual report. The report was submitted to the Moffat County commissioners Tuesday and will be discussed during a commission meeting in April.

The back-to-back placement numbers has prompted Social Services to target a goal for 2007 of working with parents "on the front end," Peer said.

"One of the major things is working to engage parents in their child's welfare before their parental rights are terminated," she said. "We want to find new ways to reach people to do that. There has to be a choice -- choose drugs or their kids."

Reaching people who are struggling falls in line with the department's mission to serve the public and help deliver "self sufficient, thriving families and individuals in Moffat County."

One avenue Social Services uses is the Colorado Works self-sufficiency program. In 1997, the department was only allowed to help people -- residents who were working, but still in need of aid to make ends meet -- through the program by giving them money.

Soon after, the program designed to help people and families sustain financial stability was expanded.

"Now what we do is sit down with people and work with them rather than simply write a check," Peer said. "Now, it's a check with a lot of help."

In 2006, Social Services served an average of 44 families per month through Colorado Works. That figure is less than half the 110 families served per month in 1997, a Social Services' goal.

Social Services reported other highlights in the annual report. Child support enforcement collections, food assistance and low-income energy assistance all increased in 2006.

All three categories represent money going toward "helping people," Peer said.

Still, Social Services finished 2006 about 18 percent under budget. The department was approved for $4.42 million last year; expenditures came in at $3.65 million.

Other goals for 2007 include better recognizing when residents are struggling, identifying different ways for people to become self sufficient and getting services to the elderly more quickly, Peer said.

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

  • Social Services releases annual report; county commissioners will discuss report at April meeting.
  • No. 1 priority is helping parents before they lose parental rights to children.
  • Out-of-home child placements decreased slightly in 2006.
  • About 83 percent of children taken out of the home because of parental methamphetamine use.
  • Department seeks "self sufficient, thriving families and individuals in Moffat County."

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