Second community forum raises key topics | CraigDailyPress.com

Second community forum raises key topics

Nicole Shatz and Kristina Gustafson

— As organizers of the Moffat County Department of Social Services' community forums look ahead, they hope to spark more and more participation from the community.

The department, in combination with other community organizations, held its second forum Thursday evening at the Pavilion, focusing on the problem of substance abuse and also on the procedure the Department of Social Services uses to decide whether or not to accept abuse and neglect referrals. The community forums are designed to take place every quarter; the first one was held in November.

Moffat County Department of Social Services Director Dollie Rose said she and Nicole Shatz, a child welfare supervisor with the department, reached out to members of Colorado Department of Human Services and received help in launching the forums.

"My goal was to create a better working relationship with other agencies and to build those relationships and trust," said Rose, who has been working as the director since July. "There has not really been that in the past."

Attendees on Thursday belonged to a number of community organizations, including the Craig Police Department, the 14th Judicial District and the Moffat County School District.

In an interview after the forum, Rose noted key areas for attention in the community — issues, she said, that demand widespread participation. She mentioned a lack of foster parents, the presence of substance abuse and a reoccurrence of child abuse and neglect. Rose also noted the absence in the area of "congregate care," which refers to children placed in residential care or treatment facilities. Rose said children in Moffat County need to be placed out of the county when they need such facilities — a situation that could be improved by a greater abundance of foster parents.

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"If we had a foster home here that the (children) could successfully go to, we would much rather send them there than out of the community," Rose said, and she noted that foster homes for children ages 10 to 18 are in particular need.

Rose added, though, that there are also times when children need the residential facilities because of repeated behavioral problems and other issues.

For Thursday's forum, the Department of Social Services teamed up with members of the Moffat County United Way and the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition, and also with Moffat County Commissioner Frank Moe.

A portion of the forum was devoted to presentations by Nicole Shatz and Kristina Gustafson, child welfare supervisors for the Moffat County Department of Social Services, who outlined the process of deciding whether or not to accept an abuse and neglect referral. That sort of explanation, Rose said, is vital for people outside of the department to understand.

"We want to be very transparent with the whole community and let them know what standards we have to stand by as far as the state," Rose said.

Department members passed out a list of criteria from the Colorado Children's Code as they moved through a fictional scenario of a referral to illustrate the process.

Thursday's session also delved into the complexities of substance abuse disorder. Craig Thornhill, program director of Mind Springs Health in Moffat County, discussed the need for additional resources and greater understanding in the community.

Thornhill said the disorder was stigmatized and misunderstood, and he noted people would not feel comfortable using derogatory names to describe those who struggled with other illnesses or conditions. He added: "If I asked you to do the same thing regarding substance users, we'd probably feel a little freer, starting with 'stoner' in Colorado. We're not where we need to be."

Thornhill noted the importance of community discussions, such as Thursday's, in making progress in understanding the disorder.

School Resource Officer Norm Rimmer, with the Craig Police Department, also addressed the forum attendees, noting community members have told him the area has a child abuse problem. Rimmer told attendees presentations in traditional settings — such as gatherings of the Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce — may not reach as wide of an audience as necessary. So, he asked attendees to think about new ways to reach out.

"Please take some time to go home and think about this," Rimmer said. "Talk to people you work with. Find out how we, the police department, and our department of social services, can get out there and educate our community about the importance of child abuse and child neglect."

Aspen Matthews, of United Way, stressed the importance of growing the forums to touch larger and larger numbers of the community.

"One of the goals is to bring someone new, each time, to attend, so that it is the whole community taking ownership," Matthews said.

Rose, too, said she would like to see participation in the forum grow. She said organizers send out invitations to the forums, but she added that anyone is welcome to attend.

"With these community forums, we're trying to get the whole community involved and not just the agencies that help people," Rose said.

Amanda Arnold, executive director of the Moffat County United Way, emphasized that the sorts of problems discussed at the community forums need widespread community input.

"For everyone, it looks different," Arnold said. "Maybe (some people) feel like they can be a mentor. Maybe they feel like they can be a foster parent. It just depends on your individual strengths."

The next community forum is slated to take place in April.