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New federal law bringing changes to state foster care system

Families First Prevention Services Act goes into effect October 1st.
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Posted at 10:56 PM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 10:42:54-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — A new federal law will bring major changes to the foster care system in Colorado.

Families First Prevention Services Act aims to place children in nurturing homes instead of residential facilities and group homes. The state introduced treatment and therapeutic foster care as new types of fostering in which parents care for fewer kids and have much more training and support.

Starting October 1st, residential facilities will be allowed sixteen total spots for children. Capacity will also have to be reduced at 51 residential facilities, collectively licensed to support 1,664 children in residential care.

Champion St. Paul is among foster parents who support the act, but believe it may pose some challenges.

"Families First is great because the idea is to keep families together. On the other hand, it could be a situation where we get the kid who should be at a facility in a therapeutic home which was a foster home," said St. Paul.

St. Paul says the new law is overall for the better and could help kids get familiar with family-like settings.

"I've seen a lot of kids who belong in a facility but I think that it was because they were used to be institutionalized. With the foster home situation, it brings them back to being a human being and you have family and these connections. In a facility, they may or may not get that family concept or humanity," said St. Paul.

He fosters six teenage boys and has created an environment similar to "therapeutic homes."

"You don't want to make a kid one-dimensional. You want to make sure he is reading, writing, mentally and physically healthy," said St. Paul. "I got a big garage so sometimes we fix cars or I have a greenhouse out here we'll be building certain things. I'll invite them over and say if you like construction, cars, or wielding then mess around with this and maybe you'll learn something. If you like it, you can pursue something in this or that direction."

Kids Crossing Executive Director Lee Oesterle says the Families First Prevention Services Act is meant to accomplish two objectives, prevent kids from going into the foster system by providing more support services to their parents or guardians and incentivize states and counties to keep them out of residential facilities or group homes.

"The focus is really having kids in families, knowing that they don't do well if they are being raised in institutionalized settings. The outcomes have shown for many years that kids do better in residential settings and residential programs should only be used more as an intervention," said Oesterle.

He says having kids in family settings rather than residential facilities or group homes could be a huge benefit.

"Of having youth in a family setting where there is a lot of one-on-one attention, and getting them away from the stressors that allowed them to be placed," said Oesterle.

With the act, Oesterle says there will be a larger demand for foster parents.

"There are funds being made available for more foster homes and to increase the rate we're paying foster parents. Historically, the rates have been $36 a day to $50 or $60, and that now ranges from teenagers to $62 up to $99 a day. This is considered reimbursement so those funds are not taxable," said Oesterle.

"It's going to be a challenge for foster parents to take on the role of residential facilities but I think the right people will take to it," said St. Paul.

For more information about therapeutic homes or becoming a foster parent, visit Kids Crossing website.