Today, and on any given day in Colorado, five children will be removed from parents and domestic environments that are "unsafe," according to the state Department of Human Services.

The ideal outcome is to return these children to a healthy and permanent home with their birth parents, or a relative or adult with whom they already have a close relationship. For many of the children removed from homes in Colorado, that's what happens.

But for 2,058 children and teens in foster care, and more than 800 living in group homes and stabilizing from trauma in residential treatment facilities, a future with a family depends - at least temporarily - on strangers.

"It does help a child or youth stabilize in general when they know they have somewhere to go," said DHS child welfare division director Ann Rosales.

During May, National Foster Care Month, state and county governments are highlighting success stories and pushing for more people to become certified foster parents or - if that's not possible - to support those who do by serving as mentors, advocates and respite care providers.

"Most foster homes in Colorado don't make it through their second year, because they (parents) are so burned out. We can help more kids if we take care of ourselves," said Colorado Springs foster mom Hope Forti. "We wish respite was mandatory."

Most of the children in public care range in age from 2 to 18 and many are considered to have special needs because they are older, part of a sibling group, certain minorities, or have physical, cognitive or emotional delays or disabilities.

"We always need new homes. Finding foster homes that are willing and able to take on our youth population is a bit more of a struggle than our under 10 population," said Shelly Serna, children, youth and family services division manager for El Paso County DHS. "We don't really have a lot of foster homes willing or equipped to take on some of the more difficult cases."

In El Paso County, about 675 children and teens live in kinship and foster situations with individuals and families licensed and coordinated by nine Child Placement Agencies, which find homes and beds for vulnerable children from all circumstances, at all hours.

"Trying to get kids reunified with parents, that's our number one goal and we really encourage foster parents to work closely with birth parents," Serna said. Even so, "a lot of those foster homes can eventually become adoptive homes."

Soon after welcoming their first biological son, Hope and Kyle Forti decided to become foster parents to a child they met while volunteering with Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Pikes Peak Region. The local couple was among five Colorado foster families honored at a celebration of National Foster Care Month held Saturday at the Governor's Mansion in Denver.

"We thought about fostering, but it seemed too scary with a little baby. We were just learning to be parents. I wanted to find the best way to help kids in crisis without doing foster care, and CASA was the answer," Hope Forti said, in an email. "Our first case had six siblings, and we were thrilled to play a role in helping their mom so they didn't have to go into foster care."

The couple quickly realized that children from bad situations "weren't so scary. They're just kids," Hope said.

"It's so easy to think fostering is for those amazing, heroic people who have time on their hands (but) all the foster parents we know are pretty normal. They're married, single, divorced, fostering with roommates, working full time, retired ... wealthy (and) paycheck-to-paycheck. Some want to adopt, others don't," she said. "There are so many unique needs in our county that if you want to foster, you can."


Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364



Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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