Foster care needs in Garfield and surrounding counties, by the numbers | PostIndependent.com

Foster care needs in Garfield and surrounding counties, by the numbers

Ryan Summerlin
rsummerlin@postindependent.com

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part look at foster care needs in Garfield County and the surrounding area. Tomorrow, the Post Independent explores efforts to recruit more foster families.

Colorado’s shortage of foster parents is being felt in Garfield County as well as its neighboring counties, though the level of demand varies greatly from county to county.

The Colorado Department of Human Services estimates that the state will need about 1,200 new foster families in the next couple of years, as the state has a severe lack of foster homes. In all of Colorado, there are only about 2,000 foster families.

In November, Garfield County Department of Human Services reported the county, population 58,000, has about 50 children living in out-of-home care. There are 10 general foster homes, as well as 10 “kinship” foster families, which are relatives that take in a foster child.

The program’s coordinators estimate that they need about 10 to 20 more foster parents to meet the need. Garfield County has 10 children placed outside of the county, six on the Front Range, due to the shortage of foster homes in the county.

Neighboring Mesa County, population 148,000, has 264 children in out-of-home placement. It has 41 foster homes and 55 kinship homes.

Some of the more rural West Slope counties also rely on space in foster homes in Grand Junction and the Front Range when they run out of space. But Mesa County, too, deals with a foster care shortage, forcing the county to send its kids elsewhere.

On average, about 10 to 15 percent of Mesa County children in out-of-home placement have to be placed outside of the county “because we do not have the resources to serve them here,” said Kari Daggett, Mesa County director of child welfare.

“Placing [children] out of our county causes delays in their permanency because of how far away they are from their parents, supports and community, not to mention that it often times removes them from all they’ve ever known, such as their neighborhood, schools and friends,” Daggett said. “Foster homes in general, and foster homes that can take sibling groups and high needs children/youth, is a real need in Mesa County.”

Eagle and Pitkin counties see considerably fewer foster children, and proportionately have few, or zero, foster homes. Because of the smaller demand, neither of these counties have their own in-house foster care programs.

Last year, Eagle County, population 53,000, had only two children placed in traditional foster care, though other children taken out of the home were able to be placed with relatives.

Kendra Kleinschmidt, Eagle County deputy director of Children, Family and Adult Services, estimates there are fewer than five foster homes in the county.

“One foster home is for emergency placements only … with no option for longer-term placements,” she said. “Other foster homes are certified for a specific child and do not accept new placements. When we do place a child in foster care, very often that foster home is outside of our community, most commonly in Grand Junction or the Denver metro area.”

Pitkin County, with a 17,000-person population, also sees an extremely low number of children in out-of-home placement. Currently Pitkin County has no certified foster homes, but that’s also due to its extremely low out-of-home placements.

In a typical year, Pitkin sees zero to one new placement per year, said Matt McGaugh, Pitkin County child welfare manager. Pitkin County currently has only one child in out-of-home placement, but that child is in a treatment setting rather than a foster home.

Despite the low number of out-of-home placements, McGaugh said Pitkin County is still trying to recruit more foster parents for when that eventuality does occur, so the county won’t have to send its children outside of the community as it has in the past.

For more information about becoming a foster family in Garfield County, visit tinyurl.com/garfieldfoster, or call 970-625-5282, ext. 3120.