Leading the Way: Colorado Makes Kinship Care a Priority for Kids in Foster Care

Posted July 26, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog leadingthewaycolorado 2017

In Col­orado, chil­dren who could not safe­ly remain in their own homes used to fol­low a well-worn path­way — one that includ­ed a stay in a res­i­den­tial facility.

Today, this path­way is the road less trav­eled, and it’s been super­seded by a pref­er­ence for kin­ship care, which places kids with rel­a­tives whom they know and trust.

Just con­sid­er the num­bers: In 2003, Colorado’s Divi­sion of Child Wel­fare report­ed plac­ing 1,483 chil­dren in res­i­den­tial treat­ment cen­ters. By 2016, this fig­ure dropped 65%, rep­re­sent­ing 526 kids placed in res­i­den­tial care. Dur­ing this same 13-year time peri­od, the num­ber of kin­ship place­ments in Col­orado near­ly dou­bled, from 1,308 to 2,401.

The state’s trans­for­ma­tion is root­ed in research that clear­ly describes the ill effects of res­i­den­tial care and the clear ben­e­fits of kin­ship care. It’s also the byprod­uct of an inten­sive con­sult­ing engage­ment with the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. For three years, Casey sup­plied a team of experts to help Col­orado increase its use of kin­ship care.

When we place chil­dren with rel­a­tives in safe, lov­ing envi­ron­ments, we set them up for the best pos­si­ble out­comes,” says Meha Desai, a con­sul­tant who led Casey’s work in Col­orado. This is an incred­i­ble step for­ward for kids and fam­i­lies in Col­orado and it pro­vides a con­crete exam­ple oth­er juris­dic­tions can follow.”

The per­cent­age of Col­orado kids now liv­ing in res­i­den­tial care hov­ers around 18% — with­in strik­ing dis­tance of the state’s goal of 15%.

Three changes that have been key to Colorado’s success:

  1. Strength­en­ing poli­cies and prac­tices to ensure that fam­i­ly mem­bers receive sup­port as need­ed when step­ping up for kids.
  2. Work­ing to edu­cate fam­i­lies, case­work­ers, judges and oth­ers about the impor­tance of rel­a­tives in children’s lives. There are so many ways rel­a­tives can sup­port kids when they are in fos­ter care, includ­ing serv­ing as tem­po­rary care­givers when par­ents are strug­gling — even as long-term care­givers, if that’s what is need­ed,” says Tracey Feild, direc­tor of Casey’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group.
  3. Invest­ing in mul­ti­ple path­ways. Col­orado is devel­op­ing a robust vari­ety of place­ment and treat­ment options so that kids and fam­i­lies can get sup­port with­out enter­ing a res­i­den­tial facil­i­ty,” Desai says.

Nation­wide, agen­cies are seek­ing more kin place­ments, although short-term res­i­den­tial place­ments are still nec­es­sary to sta­bi­lize kids with com­plex needs. Sev­er­al states have worked with Casey to increase kin­ship place­ments and decrease res­i­den­tial place­ments, includ­ing Con­necti­cut, which low­ered its use of res­i­den­tial place­ments from 25% to 14% in just four years.

Suc­cess­ful­ly shift­ing away from res­i­den­tial care — and toward kin­ship care — is noth­ing short of life chang­ing for the kids involved. Grow­ing up in a nur­tur­ing, sup­port­ive fam­i­ly is one of the most crit­i­cal pre­dic­tors of a child’s suc­cess,” says Feild.

Casey’s Suite of Kin­ship Tools and Resources

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