Study: County needs to repair relations with foster families

In a four-day series, The Daily Sentinel is delving into the killings of three children who were known to the Mesa County Department of Human Services, as part of a broader examination of the child welfare and foster care systems in the county.

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CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2
CHILD KILLERS IN MESA COUNTY: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
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CLICK HERE TO READ PART 4


 

Frustrating. Overwhelming. Difficult. Inconsistent. Conflicted. Poorly organized. Challenging. Roller coaster.

These are the eight words that participants in a study of Mesa County’s foster-care system used to describe their experiences providing foster care or kinship care, if they only had one word. In focus groups and interviews, more than 80 stakeholders revealed that the department has work to do in repairing and maintaining relationships with families that care for the children in the system in Mesa County.

The study, performed by Public Consulting Group at a cost of $55,770, was requested by the Mesa County Attorney’s Office. Leaders with the Mesa County Department of Human Services said complaints about the foster-care system prompted the study.

Though it was published March 31, it was not shared on the county’s website or with the community at-large. The Daily Sentinel obtained a copy of it through the Colorado Open Records Act, and it is posted online at GJSentinel.com.

In the study, consultants met with or surveyed foster parents, kinship families, county staff, and other child-welfare agencies who work with the county on foster-care issues.

The findings indicate foster parents in Mesa County are frustrated with the lack of communication with those who work in the system and feel they have little input in the decision-making process of where foster kids end up permanently.

The greatest challenge families reported was navigating the foster-care system, a sentiment that was echoed in an online survey. Other complaints included a lack of understanding of who is responsible for handling job duties and the frustration of having children removed from foster homes to live with family members after they had formed bonds with certified foster families.

Foster parents also complained that their assigned caseworkers changed often. It’s not clear if turnover is the cause of this perception, or if these workers moved to other roles in the department. The child-welfare department had nine employees leave between July 2014 and 2015 (the year before the study), which amounts to about 16 percent turnover, according to the report. This is lower than the statewide average of 23 percent in the same period of time. Nevertheless, the report recommends adopting policies to help transition cases, such as requiring a face-to-face meeting between foster parents and previous case managers as well as the new case manager.

The report made several recommendations, including:

■ Mesa County should have a foster-care advisory committee, appointed by county commissioners, to address issues with the program, barriers with communication and clarify caregiver policies. Currently, the child-welfare agency doesn’t have a formalized way to communicate with foster parents and kinship caregivers, “which appears to contribute to the lack of connection with DHS, and impact the quality of foster parenting,” the report said.

■ Mesa County should have a transparent quarterly forum to engage and communicate with foster parents and kinship families. The report recommended keeping minutes of these meetings and sharing them openly. “These documents should be posted on the DHS website for public consumption, and as a result, makes the discussion of committee meetings available to all interested parties,” the report said.

■ The child-welfare department should review and revise its policies on placing children in permanent homes. The report recommended using feedback from foster parents and kinship caregivers on decisions of where to place children, and documenting how child-welfare officials will incorporate that feedback into decisions on placement changes.

■ Mesa County should clarify the roles and responsibilities of its employees and other key stakeholders in the foster-care system. Even those who work within the department aren’t sure who is responsible for what tasks, the study said. The lack of transparency on what department workers’ duties entail has caused confusion within the department and outside of it. “This confusion either yields duplication of performed tasks, or even the failure to perform needed tasks,” it said.

■ Mesa County should give more support to foster families to care for children with high-trauma needs, including those with mental health or behavioral issues.

■ The child-welfare department should consider outsourcing their searches for kin, to find family members who might be able to take children they are related to earlier in the process. “There was a frustration expressed by foster parents regarding children’s removal from foster homes into kinship placements, after months of being placed with the foster home,” the report said. The study recommended hiring retired detectives to find relatives in a more timely manner after children are removed from homes.

Child welfare supervisors reported that their department has started defining roles and responsibilities of workers in the agency, but has not progressed with any of the other findings and suggestions made in the consultant’s report.

The county entered a $62,850 contract with the Front Range nonprofit Project 1.27 in June to help recruit more foster families in Mesa County because there are not enough certified homes to place the children who have been removed from homes here. Currently, more than 40 children have been placed in homes outside the county due to lack of availability of foster homes in Mesa County, forcing kids who have been removed from homes to also leave their support systems at school. The campaign has a goal of attracting 25 new foster families by Christmas. Anyone seeking more information about becoming certified as a foster parent can visit fostercareofmesacounty.org. The next orientation is Oct. 24 and people can register by calling 248-2794.


Failure_to_Protect.jpg

FAILURE TO PROTECT

In a four-day series, The Daily Sentinel is delving into the killings of three children who were known to the Mesa County Department of Human Services, as part of a broader examination of the child welfare and foster care systems in the county.

The purpose is to inform the public about how the children ended up living with the people who ultimately killed them or are accused of killing them, the warning signs, the fallout that resulted from the deaths, and the changes some want to see happen to try to prevent future killings.

The Sentinel reported this series using law enforcement records, court documents and interviews with Department of Human Services employees, families of children who were abused, foster families and other stakeholders.

Reports and documents not subject to the Colorado Open Records Act were provided by family members or other parties to the cases. You can view some of these documents at GJSentinel.com.

TODAY: Instability defined the house in which Bethannie Johnson lived — and died

MONDAY: Angel Place was taken from a loving foster mother and given to an aunt who killed her

■ TUESDAY: Lyla Blackwood’s death came days after an abuse report was made — and never addressed

WEDNESDAY: An examination of kinship placement, the need for more foster families in Mesa County, and potential reform

If you see or suspect child abuse, call 970-242-1211 or 844-CO-4-KIDS.


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