Social services address foster care, community collaboration
Craig — Ensuring the safety and well-being of children and families in Craig is the main objective of the child welfare arm of Moffat County Department of Social Services, however years of strained relationships with partner agencies and the community have troubled the department.
Under new leadership this year, Social Services is working to rebuild alliances and relationships within the community of Craig and held a forum Wednesday to listen to community concerns and needs.
“It’s been a long time since we had a meeting when there were good things that were said, so I feel confident that some of those relationships that had some stress or fractures in them are being addressed,” said Child Welfare Supervisor Nicole Shatz, who took over the position in May. “The sense that I got was that things are changing, though clearly, there’s still work that needs to be done.”
Two issues currently facing Moffat County were addressed at the meeting: a high number of dependency and neglect cases, and a large percentage of children placed in foster homes and group homes or facilities outside of Moffat County, due in part to a lack of foster parents in Craig.
“We have around 20 (dependency and neglect) cases right now, and Routt and Grand (counties), they never get close to what we have,” said Social Services Director Dollie Rose, who took the helm in July.
“Dependency and neglect” concerns children who are abused or neglected, and in Moffat County, many of these cases include an element of substance abuse from one or both parents.
“We’ve definitely seen with the majority of our kids in (foster) care, the majority of their parents have a substance abuse issue,” Shatz said, adding that the substances range from marijuana to methamphetamines and prescription pills to alcohol.
One of Social Services’ main priorities is recruiting new foster parents so that more children can be placed with local families. Currently, only four sets of foster parents — some married couples and some individuals — are signed up in Moffat County, and all are completely full.
The number of children being placed outside the county as a result is costing the agency a lot of money. In September, six out of 16 kids were placed in foster homes within Moffat County at an average cost to taxpayers of $393 per child for the month. Another four children were placed in foster homes outside Moffat County at an average cost of $1,749 per child for the month.
The other six kids were placed in residential child care facilities — either group homes or residential treatment facilities — at an average cost of $5,104 per child for the month.
“That’s just another reason we need more foster parents,” Rose said. “We easily could have put those kids here in Moffat County.”
At a total of nearly $40,000, foster care costs in September rose by more than $4,000 compared to the prior month.
Rose added the chances of successfully reuniting families increases when kids stay close by. Local placement allows for easier visitations between parents and kids and is less traumatic for children, who can stay in familiar surroundings and maintain friendships.
Participants in Wednesday’s forum addressed the problem that, historically, foster parents didn’t receive sufficient support from Social Services.
“A lot of foster families talked, and a lot of them were not treated respectfully or nice in the past,” said Horizons Family Services Coordinator Tanya Ferguson. “A lot of that is going to be that trust, that relationship.”
Shatz, who first joined Social Services from 2007 to 2010 and returned in 2012 after completing graduate school, acknowledged foster parents weren’t getting the support they needed, especially at times when case workers are swamped.
The department just re-hired Foster Care Coordinator Lauren Rising, who Shatz described as being passionate about working with foster parents. She hopes Rising will help Social Services start out on a fresh foot with new foster parents.
As for addressing the number of dependency and neglect cases, Shatz expects the number to rise before it falls due to families not cooperating with the agency to address issues in the home.
Forum participants discussed their next steps to address the problems, with an emphasis on bridging the divides between not only agencies, but also community members. Rose hopes to raise awareness that the problems don’t belong only to Social Services, but to the whole community.
“It’s about making it your own family’s problem, and coming up with good messaging that shows how it’s the community’s problem,” said Charity Neal, director of public health for Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. “Children are everyone’s issue.”