Colorado foster kids aren’t getting timely mental health screenings

Many Colorado foster children aren’t being screened for mental health problems as quickly as they should be, according to data recently reviewed by state lawmakers, who said they blame that gap in care and broken adoptions. The Colorado Sun is concerned about other issues raised in the investigation. ,

A recent report on the state Medicaid system corroborates Sun’s findings that 13% of foster child adoptions in this state have failed over the past decade due to a lack of behavioral health services that can help children recover from trauma. Huh.

Less than a third of children in foster care in Colorado receive a behavioral health screening within a month of enrolling in the state’s Medicaid insurance program, according to 2020-21 data from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. Despite well-documented concerns about the prevalence of trauma and mental health issues among foster children and those adopted from the foster care system — in many cases, years can follow former foster children.

The data shows that only 15.4% of foster children in Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas and Elbert counties received a behavioral health assessment within 30 days of signing up for the government health insurance program. Just over 16% of kids on the West Slope did. Foster children fared better in southern Colorado counties including Las Animas, Mineral and Alamosa. Thirty-three percent of children there received timely behavioral health assessments in 2020 and 2021.

Former foster children are eligible for Medicaid until age 26, regardless of their income. Children adopted from the foster care system in Colorado can remain on Medicaid regardless of their adoptive family’s income.

Lawmakers on the powerful committee that writes the state budget raised concerns about the low assessment rates at a November 18 hearing.

State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger linked the data to the Sun investigation’s findings, which found that state and county systems are failing former foster children and their adoptive parents to care for children with severe trauma.

“Some of these figures … kind of point it out,” said Genzinger, an Arvada Democrat and chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. “I’m worried about.”

She added that behavioral health screening is important because of the trauma fostering children experience, which can include abuse, being placed with multiple foster families or being adopted and being released back into the foster care system. can be given.

If not taken care of, mental health issues can “muddle through” and lead to other problems later on.

“High rates of substance abuse, high rates of violence, high rates of homelessness, inability to pursue education,” she said. “It impacts your ability to succeed so much that if you don’t address it, it’s going to hurt them.”

Zenzinger, who has sponsored previous legislation to support foster children in Colorado, said she was not surprised by the low assessment rates. She wants to see what steps the legislature can take to plug the loopholes in the system.

“It’s really important that we’re tracking it,” she said. “We want to make sure that all of the children who are in the child welfare system need access to this kind of – I think – very basic support.”

She also plans to work with the governor’s office on a bill that would create a voucher program for former foster children to help them find housing.

“As proud as I am of the work we’ve done, it seems like there’s a lot more to do,” he said.

Sybil Cummin, a behavioral health therapist in Arvada who sees foster children, said child protection caseworkers are often so overwhelmed with their caseload that there is a delay in connecting with a therapist.

And as children move to new foster homes, they may also move to a different area in Colorado’s Medicaid system, which has seven regional organizations that license mental health and substance use therapists in their area. This means that children may have to find a new therapist if they move homes.

On top of all that, said Kamin, who runs Arvada Therapy Solutions, “there is a significant shortage of child providers in general and even fewer who specialize in child abuse, neglect and sexual abuse cases.”

Treating foster children often means more work for the therapist, not only because their mental health needs are more acute, but also because the therapist has to work with caseworkers, court-appointed guardians, foster parents, and biological parents. Have to communicate with the father, he said.

Lauren Ferguson, a Conifer therapist who has worked with about 25 foster children over the past five years, said finding therapists who don’t have Medicaid and have long waiting lists is even more difficult in rural areas. And the timeline is important, she said, because children who have gone through a “significant and traumatic life-changing event” often need someone to help them process it.

“The sooner they can get support for their emotional and mental health needs, the better,” she said.

Over the past decade, about 1,100 children adopted from foster care in Colorado have been returned to the system — an outcome that can be heartbreaking for adoptive parents and children. Child welfare officials say behavioral problems are the primary reason adoptions fail. And the parents, who are often made to feel like demons, say they aborted the adoption after failing to find help.

“I’m screaming for anyone who will listen. Teacher’s. doctor. Somebody help me Somebody help my child, my family. We need help,” said one mother.

Some children adopted from the foster care system are diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, which can show up in behavior including stealing, lying, manipulation, and resisting parental affection while being affectionate with strangers. Parents told The Sun that a lack of physicians capable of treating the disorder may contribute to adoption.

Michelle Schuldt hugs 5-year-old Niko while 7-year-old Wesley watches at Aurora’s Sunburst Park. Schuldt and her husband have six adopted children in addition to two biological children. “I think there needs to be a branch in every agency for post-adoption — to help adoptive parents find support groups, therapy, or marriage counseling,” Schuldt said. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

More broadly, the lack of health care providers who accept Medicaid is a common complaint from adoptive families, who have sometimes resorted to driving their children hours to appointments. The Joint Budget Committee, as recently as this fall, had heard continuing concerns about the “inadequacy” of the Medicaid provider network.

“Access to health care providers is a big problem, especially in rural areas,” Stephanie Holsinger, adult and child protective services program manager for Montrose County, said earlier this month.

Providers who accept Medicaid often complain about the high administrative burden of participating in the government program, and reimbursement for providing care at low rates.

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