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Program to stem child abuse coming back to Colorado Springs

January 31, 2014 Updated: January 31, 2014 at 7:05 pm

A program that provides a place for frazzled, angry parents to drop off their kids before the situation turns abusive plans to reopen Monday.

The resurrection of the KPC Respite Center ends a nine-month closure that had left the region without a critical means to prevent child abuse.

Lutheran Family Services will operate the program while serving as its new financial backbone - a newfound source of grants and donations that should keep the program solvent for at least the next two years, said Gwen White, Lutheran Family Services foster care program director.

The nonprofit had been waiting for state regulators to issue a final license before opening. On Friday, White found out the license had been granted, and she plans to implement a tiered opening to help ease the center back into existence.

Initially, it will take limited referrals - largely from the El Paso County Department of Human Services - before fully opening it up to the public later this month, she said.

"I've been continuously getting calls during the time we've been closed," White said. "People are out there and they need the service."

Since 2004, the program served as a safe house for children whose parents or caregivers felt likely to harm them. With one call, parents could leave their children in the hands of staff at the facility for up to 72 hours while they cooled off or sought help.

In 2012, the center took in 501 children from 304 families - sometimes for just a few hours; at times, for days.

But in May, the nonprofit that previously ran it, Pikes Peak Family Connections, closed - creating a gaping hole in the community's safety net for at-risk families.

Family Connections' funding woes dated back at least five years as grants and private donations dwindled, said Traci Hearne, Family Connections' former executive director.

"To be honest, a lot of it had to do with the fact that it was a very small nonprofit," Hearne said. "And not that the money's not necessarily there, but organizations are more, obviously, apt to give money to ... a Lutheran Family (Services) - someone with that kind of backing."

The closure posed a particular problem for El Paso County, which continually tallies the most number of child abuse reports - though not necessarily confirmed cases - in Colorado. Through Nov. 20, the department had tallied 12,281 chile abuse or neglect reports - on pace to surpass the previous year's total.

After courting several organizations across the region, KPC Respite Center was able to get Lutheran Family Services to agree to take over the program on Oct. 1, triggering a long re-licensing process.

Although Family Connections also offered parenting classes and case management services, only the respite center will return - a large reason for KPC's renewed financial footing, White said.

The center will start with four or five staff members, some of whom will be part-time. It also will begin with limited ability to do follow up, White said.

Ascension Lutheran Church will donate the building to house the center, just as it did before the closure. It will be funded with a mix of funding from DHS, grants, church donations and individual contributions.

The center will still be able to take in 12 children at a time, all 6 years old or younger. Any pre-teen siblings of those children can also stay at the center.

And it will have the same number to call for help: 634-5439.

"The real goal is prevention, so preventing families from getting in situations where DHS is involved," Hearne said.

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