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Many Colorado Adoptees Are Not Getting Behavioral Health Testing As Quickly As They Should

Many adoptive children in Colorado are not being screened for mental health issues as quickly as they should be, according to data recently reviewed by state lawmakerswho expressed concern about this disconnect in care and other issues raised in a Colorado Sun Survey on broken adoptions.

The recent report from the state Medicaid system reinforces the Sun’s findings that 13% of foster child adoptions in the state have failed over the past decade, in part due to a lack of services. behavioral health that could help children recover from trauma.

Less than a third of children in foster care in Colorado receive a behavioral health screening within a month of enrolling in the state’s Medicaid program, according to 2020-21 figures from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. This is despite well-documented concerns about the prevalence of trauma and mental health issues among children in foster care and those adopted from the foster care system – issues that, in many cases, can follow. former foster children for years.

Data shows that only 15.4% of children placed in Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas and Elbert counties received a behavioral health assessment within 30 days of enrolling in the government health insurance program. A little over 16% of the children on the western slope did so. Children placed in southern Colorado counties, including Las Animas, Mineral and Alamosa, fared better. Thirty-three percent of children there received a behavioral health assessment on time in 2020 and 2021.

Former foster children are eligible for Medicaid until age 26, regardless of income. Children adopted from the Colorado foster care system can remain on Medicaid, regardless of their adoptive family’s income.

Lawmakers on the powerful committee that writes the state budget have worried about low tax rates in a November 18 hearing.

State Senator Rachel Zenzinger linked the data to the findings of the Sun investigation, which found that former adoptive children and their adoptive parents are being abandoned by state and county systems ill-equipped to care for children. suffering from severe trauma.

“Some of these statistics…kind of confirm that,” said Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat and chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. “I’m worried about this.”

Behavioral health screenings are important because of the trauma foster children experience, which may include abuse, being placed in multiple foster homes, or being adopted and returned to the foster care system, a- she declared.

If left untreated, mental health issues can “get worse” and lead to other problems later on.

“Higher rates of substance abuse, higher rates of violence, higher rates of homelessness, inability to pursue an education,” she said. “It has such an impact on your ability to succeed that if you don’t deal with it, it will hurt them.”

Zenzinger, who has sponsored previous legislation to support foster children in Colorado, said she was not surprised by the low assessment rates. She intends to see what measures the legislator can take to fill the gaps in the system.

“It’s really, really important that we follow this,” she added. “We want to make sure that all the needs of children who are in the child welfare system have access to these types of – what I consider to be – fairly basic supports.”

She also plans to work with the governor’s office on a bill that would create a voucher program for former foster children to help them find housing.

“As proud as I am of the work we’ve done, it seems there’s still a lot to do,” she said.

Sybil Cummin, a behavioral health therapist at Arvada who sees foster children, said child protection social workers are often so overwhelmed with their workload that there is a delay in connecting with therapists.

And as children move into new foster homes, they may also move to another region of Colorado’s Medicaid system, which has seven regional entities that license mental health and addiction therapists in their area. . This means children may need to find a new therapist if they move house.

On top of all that, there’s “a significant lack of child providers in general let alone who specialize in working with child abuse, neglect and child sexual abuse cases,” Cummin said. , which operates Arvada Therapy Solutions.

Treating foster children often means more work for therapists, not only because their mental health needs are more intense, but because therapists have to communicate with social workers, court-appointed guardians, adoptive parents and biological parents, she said.

Lauren Ferguson, a Conifer therapist who has worked with about 25 foster children over the past five years, said finding therapists who take Medicaid and don’t have long waiting lists is even harder in rural areas. . And timing is crucial, she said, because children who have experienced a “significant and traumatic life-changing event” often need someone to help them process it.

“The sooner they can get support for their emotional and mental health needs, the better,” she said.

Over the past decade, nearly 1,100 foster children in Colorado have ended up in the system — a result that can be distressing for adoptive parents and children. Child protection officials say behavior issues are the main reason these adoptions fail. And parents, who are often made to feel like freaks, say they have dissolved adoptions after failing to find help.

“I’m shouting out to anyone who wants to listen. Teachers. Therapists. Someone help me. Someone help my child, my family. We need help,” a mother said.

Some children adopted from the foster care system are diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, which can manifest in behaviors such as stealing, lying, manipulation, and resisting parental affection while being affectionate with strangers. A shortage of therapists who can treat the disorder may be contributing to failed adoptions, parents have told The Sun.

Michelle Schuldt hugs Niko, 5, as Wesley, 7, looks on at Sunburst Park in Aurora. Schuldt and her husband have six adopted children in addition to two biological children. “I think there needs to be a branch in every agency for post-adoption — to help adoptive parents find support groups, therapy, or marriage counseling,” Schuldt said. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

More generally, the lack of health care providers who accept Medicaid is a common complaint from adoptive families, who have sometimes resorted to driving hours to bring their children to appointments. The Joint Budget Committee as recently as this fall heard lingering concerns on the “insufficiency” of the network of Medicaid providers.

Access to health care providers is a “huge problem, especially in rural areas,” Stephanie Holsinger, Montrose County Adult and Child Protective Services Program Manager, said earlier this month. .

Providers who accept Medicaid frequently complain about the heavy administrative burden associated with participating in the government programand the low rates at which they are reimbursed for providing care.

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