Community forum participants focus on helping children thrive with families
Colorado Department of Human Service officials address group, note drawbacks of congregate care
May 12, 2016
Craig — Helping children while they’re still with their families served as a focal point of the third community forum on Wednesday, sponsored by the Moffat County Department of Social Services.
As professionals and others concerned with children's mental health and overall well-being gathered at Colorado Northwestern Community College, they discussed ways to bolster the sorts of services young people need. Springing from a presentation by Korey Elger, they focused on how to provide such services for children at home.
"Kids don't do well in systems," said Elger, ongoing child protection administrator in the Colorado Department of Human Services. "Families raise children well. Even if we don't think that they're doing a great job, they're going to do better than the system that we have."
Elger was in town for the community forum on Wednesday, along with colleagues Lorendia Schmidt and Melinda Cox.
Elger said Colorado has the highest percentage of children in "congregate care" — which refers largely to group home and residential care — of any state in the country.
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"We as a state are working right now — but have not necessarily done a great job — of getting treatment foster care," she said. "It's intense, and we need to have the right people to do that. Other states do have those options."
Elger noted the need for congregate care on a limited basis.
"We want to keep that short, intensive, and then get (children) back to their families," she said.
Elger said federal funding is decreasing for congregate care, in recognition that other means of mental health treatment are more effective.
"When we have kids raised in care, we don't have good outcomes for them," she said. "Six out of 10 prisoners in the United States right now were in foster care at some point."
Elger's presentation sparked participants to discuss the sorts of services that exist in the community to prevent the need for institutionalized care — as well as the ways to create services that don't yet exist.
"We have a lot of broken families," said Susie Coleman, Individualized Service and Support Team coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. "They have friends who want to take them in, but they don't get help with food, they don't get help with clothes, and I think sometimes something that defers them from doing it. They want to, because they have the love, but they don't have money."
Cox, core services and prevention programs manager with the Colorado Department of Human Services, noted some options for such families, including programs through Colorado Works.
As participants in the forum talked, a number of issues emerged, focused mostly on the theme of helping children — and their families — receive help at home. Coleman noted the importance of family therapy.
"You send kids back (home), and they've had therapy, but the family hasn't had therapy," she said.
Dr. Elise Sullivan, with The Memorial Hospital, mentioned a number of needs she's observed, including stronger sex education.
"Even if it was outside of the high school … I'd really like to see more sex ed for our teenagers," she said. "We have the highest teen pregnancy rate in Colorado. I would also like to drug and alcohol treatment for our community be stronger."
Sullivan noted the strong efforts and limited resources she's observed from local institutions.
"I would agree that if you have a kid that needs counseling, our local schools try to do a really good job, and Mind Springs tries to do a really good job, but I just sense that they don't have the capacity to offer intensive therapy," Sullivan said. "They want to; they just don't actually have the resources."
Lauren Rising, foster care coordinator for the Moffat County Department of Social Services, reported that the county has four foster homes, all full.
"Number one, it's hard to get foster parents," she said. "Number two, it's really hard to get ones who will take teens."
But Rising said a new foster family, on track to be certified by the end of the month, is willing to take care of teens.
Rising mentioned a strong turnout at an open house for prospective foster parents earlier this year, noting that the people who came expressed a desire to help children in the community. She said some did not feel ready to become foster parents but still wanted to perform other sorts of services, such as mentoring or providing respite care.
"There's people out there who really want to help, but it kind of feels like we don't have the outlets for them to help — like to be a mentor," she said.
Others mentioned the need for more teen activities and support services in the area. Several representatives from the Boys & Girls of Craig in attendance noted that the club serves teens up through the age of 18 — a fact they said isn’t always realized in the community.
Participants cited the need for a mentoring program, along with the prevalence of drug abuse, as a possible focus for the next community forum. That forum is anticipated to take place about three months from now.
Charity Reiser, Tanya Ferguson, Susie Coleman and Trish Snyder helped to organize Wednesday's forum.