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October 26, 2023

JOINT RELEASE: Interim Committee Passes Bipartisan Bills to Support Children and Youth in Foster Care

Legislation includes designated support for youth with complex behavioral health care needs, system accountability tools and improved access to services for non-english speakers 

DENVER, CO – Colorado's Child Welfare System Interim Study Committee yesterday passed five bipartisan bills to support children and youth in foster care or at risk of out-of-home placement. 

“We need to improve access to care to ensure our children and youth with complex behavioral health needs are receiving the treatment they deserve,” said Chair of Colorado's Child Welfare System Interim Study Committee, Rep. Mary Young, D-Greeley, sponsor of Bill 5. “This bill would create a system of care, including training for residential child care providers, specifically designed to support children and youth with complex behavioral health needs. Our goal is to make sure our youth can get access to the care they need, when they need it, from high-quality professionals to improve their overall health care outcomes.”

“Caring for your behavioral health is just as important as physical health - but behavioral health care needs are often complex, and caring for them can be difficult, especially for young people in foster care,” said Vice Chair of Colorado's Child Welfare System Interim Study Committee Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, sponsor of Bill 5. “Our bill will require the state to expand and improve treatment options and services for those individuals, and will help more children and youth in foster care get the critical treatment they deserve,”

Bill 5, sponsored by Representatives Young and Brandi Bradfield, R-Colorado Springs, Senator Fields and Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Weld County, outlines a new system of care designed for youth and children in foster care, or at risk of out-of-home placement with complex behavioral health needs. Specifically, Bill 5 would require state agencies to create a care plan that includes the implementation of a standardized assessment tool, intensive-care coordination, expanded supportive services and expanded access to alternatives to residential treatment. Bill 5 aims to make it easier for youth with complex behavioral health needs to receive the care they need, when they need it. In order to meet the needs of foster youth, the bill would create a training academy and help create a talent pipeline of high-quality residential child care providers.

“When it comes to accessibility, Colorado needs to do a better job to support our children and families involved in dependency and neglect court cases,” said Rep. Junie Joseph, D-Boulder, sponsor of Bill 6. “This important piece of legislation will improve our state’s language standards, so that all families and guardians have the court-ordered information they need in a format they can readily understand. Certain accommodations, including language standards, are necessary to support Coloradans as they navigate our judicial and welfare system, and this bill will help in closing this widening gap.”

“Neglect and abuse cases are already stressful and challenging for children and families, which is why we must do more to support these families and break down language barriers,” said Senator Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, sponsor of Bill 6. “Bill 6’s accommodations are a no-brainer. Every Coloradan – regardless of their primary language – deserves access to translation services that will help them better navigate the family judicial system and care for children involved.”

To improve accessibility for children, families and guardians involved in abuse and neglect legal cases, Bill 6, sponsored by Representatives Joseph and Bradley, and Senators Michaelson Jenet and Kirkmeyer, would require the Colorado Department of Human Services to translate court-ordered documents, including treatment plans, into the primary language used by the family. The services would include language translation and interpretation services.

“Domestic violence deaths are on the rise, we need to do everything in our power to protect survivors and their innocent children,” said Majority Leader Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, sponsor of Bill 7. “My son and I survived domestic violence, but others across our state are not as fortunate. This important bill works to add another layer of protection for children living in homes with domestic abuse by requiring mandatory reporters to report suspected and known DV situations. This bill, combined with other legislative efforts, will help keep our communities safer while supporting our survivors.”

“It’s past time we take a close look at how we’re tracking instances of child abuse and domestic violence,” said Senator Chris Kolker, D-Centennial, sponsor of Bill 7. “Our new bill requires a comprehensive audit of the state’s current reporting and tracking tools to ensure we’re getting a complete picture of the problem at hand and so that we can better determine best practices going forward. This is a critical step we can take to ensure we’re doing everything we can to accurately track child abuse and, ultimately, keep our kids safe.”

To support children in suspected domestic violence situations, Bill 7 would require mandatory reporters, including teachers, medical professionals, and law enforcement, to report any evidence of known or suspected domestic violence in a child's home including evidence from previous cases. Bill 7, sponsored by Majority Leader Duran and Representative Gabe Evans, R-Fort Lupton, and Senators Kolker and Kirkmeyer, also outlines the framework for the Colorado State Department of Human Services to develop and implement a screening process for counties to follow when responding to a hotline report, including questions regarding domestic violence and a disclaimer that calls are recorded. Additionally, the bill requires an audit on the current tools used to report and track child abuse to ensure best practices and increase child safety.

The committee also passed two additional pieces of legislation, including Bill 1 and Bill 2. Bill 1, sponsored by Senators Zenzigner and Kirkmeyer and Representatives Young and Pugliese, aims to improve measures for kinship foster care homes, including establishing a process for kinship foster care homes to become certified and securing assistance for providing a child’s basic care.

Bill 2, sponsored by Senators Michaelson Jenet and Kirkmeyer and Majority Leader Duran and Representative Pugliese would lay down the groundwork toward creating a more streamlined and expansive system of care with focus on prevention so that behavioral health needs can be addressed earlier in the process.

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