Officials in Adams County spent four years working to come up with a program that spares children the shock of being thrust into emergency foster care.
The result is two newly renovated, spacious homes that soon will offer temporary, safe housing for kids waiting for permanent placement.
“We wanted to provide them a soft landing in the middle of a traumatic situation,” Adams County Commissioner Charles “Chaz” Tedesco said. “I think it will work out for the kids and the people who want to help them.”
The county’s short-term placement program — called “Homes for Hope” — is the first of its kind in the state, and perhaps the country, because it’s government-sponsored, Tedesco said. Nonprofit and religious groups run similar programs to temporarily house displaced kids before a permanent home can be found, he said.
The two homes in Adams County will shelter children ages 1 to 18 for up to 60 days, and keeping siblings together will be a top priority. In the meantime, social workers will have the time to search for a good-fitting permanent situation that could be with close relatives, a foster family or back with their parents, Adams County Human Services Director Janis James said.
As it stands now, social workers often have to scour the state to quickly find temporary homes for children who have been removed from their permanent homes because of suspected child neglect or other situations. Many times siblings have to be separated because there isn’t enough room at a temporary home, James said.
“We’ve had to place kids as far away as Pueblo, Grand Junction, Fort Collins — and if there is not enough room for siblings, they have to go their separate ways,” James said. “And that is really tough for young kids.”
The homes are scheduled to open in February.
Doing something better
The county began looking into doing something differently for kids needing emergency housing in 2014. The impetus was cost and the need to keep a bad situation from getting worse for children, Tedesco said. “We knew we could do something better,” he said.
It costs the county about $155,000 a year in foster care costs, including taking a foster child to a location often outside of Adams County. About 600 kids are placed in the county’s foster care system each year, James said.
“When social workers are taking these children to their foster homes, that takes them away from their other work they could be doing to help other children in the same situation,” James said.
Besides siblings, teen moms placed into foster care with infants will be able to stay at the homes until an alternative long-term option is found.
Adams County purchased the two homes in separate acquisitions, officials said. The smaller home — which sits on 128 acres — was acquired in 2004 for $2.4 million and paid for with $500,000 from a Great Outdoors Colorado grant and $1.9 million from Adams County’s open space tax sales proceeds.
The larger home, on 17 acres, was acquired in 2009 for $955,000 and paid for with proceeds from the county’s open space sales tax. Both properties are protected from development by conservation easements granted to the city of Westminster, officials said.
The county commissioners approved $675,000 to renovate the homes, a project that started in May.
Recruiting host families
Because the county owns the homes, host families will not have to pay mortgage or rent, officials said. Utilities are covered by the host families, but the homes are served by well water and on-site propane tanks, so utility costs should be minimal, said county spokesman Jim Siedlecki.
Host families will get the state-issued daily rate for each foster child placed in the home. Those daily rates range from $11.64 to $14.12, depending on the age of the child, according to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.
The county’s child placement agency also receives funding to administer the program and provide oversight to the homes, Siedlecki said. Under Colorado law, foster families can’t simply rely on income from providing foster care. That means host families must typically have someone who works outside the home or has some other form of income, he said.
The county is now recruiting host families for the two homes. But applicants will face background checks that are required by law for any foster parents or people living in the home over the age of 18.
Sex offender registry checks also are completed for all foster families and foster parents must complete 40 hours of trauma informed training before they can be certified as foster families, Siedlecki said.
The host families also cannot adopt the children placed in “Homes for Hope,” but, rather, must commit to giving them the short-term stability they need, said James, the Adams County Human Services director.
“We want to give the kids a little breather, a little less trauma in their lives,” she said.
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