By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
"Almost every state is experiencing increases in the number of children coming into out-of-home care," says Kathy Barbell, Director of Foster Care for the Child Welfare League of America. "The main reason is abuse and neglect." According to statistics from the Child Welfare League, between 1982 and 1992 the number of children in foster care increased by 69 percent nationally. In 1993 roughly 460,000 children lived in foster care nationally, and that number is expected to reach 540,000 by 1995.
Not everyone agrees with that assessment.
"The trend is that Social Services has been the fastest-growing department of government over the past eight years," says Phil Pankey, a Littleton Republican who chairs the House Health, Environment, Welfare and Institutions Committee. "Funding isn't the issue. Most people in the department, instead of providing services, are just paper-shufflers.
"The more money they spend and the more people they hire, the bigger a bureaucracy it gets."
The negotiated settlement is similar to those in other states that have been sued. The Colorado agreement would, among other things, require an increase in county staff positions starting with the 1994-95 fiscal year. The legislature has responded by funding 158 new positions for the counties for 1994-95, after having funded for only 50 new staff members for the 1993-94 fiscal year.
Whether those increases will help the state keep pace with a growing problem is not known. The state's out-of-home placements of foster children have increased by almost 17 percent during the past three years; in 1993 a total of 12,187 children were served by the foster care system. Since the children may have been served more than once or may have had several placements, they may have been counted more than once. The American Public Welfare Association puts the estimated number of children in Colorado foster care at almost 5,000.
Some foster parents and others question whether funding and new services are the answer to what ails the system.
"What Social Services will tell you," says Adoree Blair, president of the Arapahoe County Foster Parents Association, "is, `We're not meeting standards now because there's not enough time, the court docket is too full and there's no money or resources.' Well, I agree with that up to a point, but [the system] is very poorly managed. There are some counties which are good and some terrible, but there's no way to monitor that. You can't throw millions of dollars into a system which doesn't have good practices."
The problem in Colorado, some say, is too much decentralization. "The crux of the whole situation is that you have to look at the Department of Social Services as being deregulated," says Victoria Windsor, a children's advocate. "They can do what they want, when they want. There's no accountability. You can have all the policies and laws, but if they don't want to follow them, what good is it?"
Some officials, however, think the settlement will help. "Obviously, you have to have good management," says Christine Highnam, director of the Boulder County Department of Social Services. "But if you have half the caseworkers for your caseload, you're going to have enormous problems, no matter how good you are. This settlement is going to make a really significant difference."
"If the settlement is adhered to as it was written down, and in the spirit of the people behind it and followed through, you can feel real good that children's lives are improved," says Hogan. "But saying it, agreeing to it and funding it--that's a whole different ball game.