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Colorado foster families concerned proposed legislation takes away their voice

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Rachel Hays has been a foster parent for 11 years and has even adopted six kids. Now, proposed legislation in the statehouse has her concerned.

Proposed House Bill 23-1024 provides greater support for children placed with kin. Current federal law requires placement preference to be given to kin when a kid enters the foster care system. But this law takes it one step further, saying relatives should always be the preferred placement for foster children.

The bill states kids placed with relatives experience “greater stability, reduced separation trauma, lower rates of trauma from institutional abuse, better behavioral and mental health outcomes, preservation of identities, and higher rates of reunification with parents than children and youth placed in foster homes.

It’s why Hope and Home, a child placement agency in Colorado Springs, supports the bill.

“The best practice is always to keep kids with their families when it's safe and to put them with relatives if it's safe,” said Jacque Thurman-Wright, the clinical director at Hope and Home. “That is always the first goal. We never want to remove kids from their families and from their homes.”

Jody Britton, the service coordinator for Foster Source, is also a kinship caregiver. She fostered her best friend's nephew. Although more resources would be distributed to kin caregivers through this proposed bill, Britton said it’s not enough, as kin caregivers don’t receive a stipend like foster parents.

“I wish that there were a lot more tangible supports written into the bill,” Britton said. “I'm not going to argue with the fact that we do need to be resourcing kin and we do need to be placing children with kin whenever safe.”

However, the biggest concern of foster families with this proposed bill is found in the fine print.

Right now, foster families can intervene in court on behalf of their foster child as long as that child has been in their care for at least three months. This proposed legislation would increase that time frame to a year before foster parents can intervene.

“To limit anybody's voice who is speaking on behalf of the child, I don't see how that's in the best interests of children,” Britton said.

Britton said although foster parents still have a “right to be heard,” meaning they can raise concerns to a judge, they won’t have a “right to intervene,” which allows foster parents to call witnesses and cross-examine.

Hays, a foster parent with ten kids, is worried the proposed change will lead to poor decisions by courts regarding foster kids because they don’t have all the information.

“That's 12 months of history that the judge is not able to really hear firsthand and it really ends up disrupting how decisions are made,” she said.

Hays said no one knows a child better than a foster parent.

“You're taking away that expert who knows the child’s sleeping patterns, eating patterns, academics, medical needs,” Hays said. “You're taking away essentially the child's voice within the courtroom.”

Lee Freeman, the founder of Foster Alight, was a foster parent for more than a year before a case worker found the foster child’s relative on the other side of the country. The courts decided to give the kid to the relative.

“This bill stands to put family placements, kinship placements, above other alternatives, and it does so at the cost of attachment,” Freeman said.

Human services departments are supposed to search for a relative 30 days after a child enters the foster care system. But Freeman said it usually doesn’t happen that quickly.

The proposed law change is because the intervention of foster parents creates longer court cases, leading to higher taxpayer costs, according to Britton.

Freeman and Hays don’t want the bill to pass but at the very least they are asking legislators to only increase the intervention threshold to six months.

“It's necessary for the best interests of children because, without the foster parents, there is often no one in that situation who understands the child's needs personally,” Freeman said.

The bill passed the House and is now being debated by the Health and Human Services Committee in the Senate.

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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