One-third of children in foster care in Larimer County are at risk of being placed outside of their communities due to a shortage of foster homes in the area â€“â€“ a situation that threatens to impede their chances of becoming successful adults in the future.
Carla Felts, a senior social caseworker for foster & kinship care for the county, attributes the statistic to a lack of awareness about the need for quality foster homes in the area.
â€œLarimer County is one of the top 10 counties in Colorado,â€ she said. â€œYet weâ€™re not Denver, so people donâ€™t assume that thereâ€™s abuse or neglect here.â€
More than 5,000 abuse and neglect claims are made every year to the municipalityâ€™s authorities. At any given time, the Larimer County Department of Human Services could be working with approximately 1,100 children between ages 0 and 18 and their families regarding concerns related to abuse, neglect or lack of resources that would put the children in harmâ€™s way.
Of that number, about 200 children are removed from their homes of origin and placed in foster care. With only 70 foster homes in Larimer County, one-third of children in foster care may be placed outside of their communities. The average age of someone in the child welfare system is 9 years old.
Felts said the complications which can come with such displacement can be damaging.
â€œThat in itself is a traumatizing situation to a child,â€ Felts said. â€œSomething has happened â€“â€“ they know they have to be removed from people that they loved, and then placed with strangers possibly who might be 50 miles away.â€
David Sharp, the public policy chair for the National Foster Parent Association, described the problems children face when taken from their communities as multi-layered.
â€œAll schools are not in sync academically as far as what class follows the next class,â€ he said, adding that this gets in the way of scholastic achievement. â€œSocially, theyâ€™ve lost all their friends, and theyâ€™re forced to make new ones at a time when theyâ€™re forced to cope with a new family.â€
He added, â€œThereâ€™s so much stacked against them in the first place that every time you add another stumbling block to that scenario, itâ€™s just going to make it more difficult for the child to go home.â€
Students on campus are growing concerned about the situation as well. Alyssa Chavez, a senior social work major, and two other students in her social work class decided to look into the issue as part of a group project. Their findings, she said, have been staggering.
â€œBasically, they come out of the foster care system with no families,â€ she said.
The lack of support, she said, could be whatâ€™s behind other information that paints a grim picture for those emerging from the system. About 30 percent of individuals who are homeless in America were once in foster care and 25 percent of those in prison also once had contact with the system.
Even still, what stands out most to other group members like senior social work major Felicia Fossinger about foster care is the displacement that often goes hand in hand with coming into contact with the system.
â€œProbably the most shocking or eye-opening thing I have discovered is that this isnâ€™t a problem that happens in just other cities or states; children are being taken out of their homes due to abuse and neglect and put into foster care in our very own community,â€ she said.
â€œOne of the most fundamental things I have learned is that we need more foster homes for these kids who are placed out-of-home due to an unfortunate circumstance beyond their control.â€
Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the numbers
The number of children who come in contact with foster care in the U.S. every year.
The number of children in foster care who never leave the system in the U.S. every year.
The percentage of children in foster care in 2009 who were white.
The percentage of children in foster care in 2009 who were black.
The percentage of children in foster care in 2009 who were Hispanic.
The percentage of children in foster care in 2009 who were multiracial.