Kempe Advocacy Update: 2020 Election and Beyond

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In every election cycle, we have the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to children. By voting for child focused policies, we can ensure continued funding and investments in early childhood and healthy child development. These investments are essential for strengthening Colorado families. With the 2020 election now behind us, we’re taking a moment to highlight local election outcomes and the 2020-21 state budget, plus how it impacts Kempe programs and children and families in Colorado.

Ballot Measures  

Many statewide ballot measures were successful, including Proposition EE which provides funding for education and access to free preschool. The revenue from a tax increase on vaping and tobacco products would go to K-12 education funding, an additional amount to rural schools, affordable housing, eviction legal assistance, tobacco education programs, local governments, and to expand pre-school programming. Beginning in 2023, every child in Colorado would be eligible for 10 hours per week of free preschool in their final year before kindergarten. Kempe applauds the passage of Proposition EE.

FY 2021-2022 Budget

Within the FY 2021-2022 budget request, the Governor has recommended restoring the $300,000 cut from the CARE Network last year. This means total requested funding is $911,776 General Fund. The Child Welfare Training System also received the full $6,797,102 Total Funds and the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention Services, of which SafeCare is funded through a portion received $8,182,206 General Funds.  

The Joint Budget Committee commenced their briefing and hearing process on November 11th and will hear from each state agency about why their reuqests are critical. Our number one priority moving into 2021 is continuing full appropriations for Kempe’s state funded programs and partnerships. There is a lot of discussion percolating among stakeholders, agencies and legislators for improvement of behavioral health services.  

Moving Forward

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought Colorado to an inflection point in the care and protection of our children and families. It has hit our most at-risk communities the hardest. Children and families in many communities are experiencing increased stress from loss of income, instability in housing, distance from social supports and an increasing inability to cover their basic needs. Children who were once connected to social support systems through schools and nonprofit programs are now disconnected due to social distancing and funding cuts. As we look to the future, we expect an unprecedented demand for services to help children and families.

In response to uncertainties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and other social unrest, Kempe is initiating new programs and expanding existing programs to address child trauma.  

  • CARE Network: The CARE Network was adopted by the Colorado Legislature in 2019 to build local capacity to provide quality medical and behavioral assessments for suspected victims of child abuse and neglect in their local communities, and ensures that designated providers will be equipped to identify child and family stresses that may lead to trauma. The designated providers will be equipped to provide families with information about local resources available to help them address these stresses. 
  • Trauma-Responsive Schools: Even prior to COVID-19, students who have experienced trauma were among the children experiencing the most challenges, in and out of schools. COVID-19 has created uncertainty, loss and fear, and has exacerbated inequities experienced by many families and their children. This uncertainty will likely increase the risk of long-term reactions for the children, families and school staff. The current challenging times may increase the ‘out of control’ behavior of students, as well as strain the self-regulation ability of staff to appropriately deal with behavior challenges. Through our Trauma-Responsive Schools program, we provide training to teachers, counselors, staff and parents to address these issues. We’ve continued to connect with school districts across the metro area about opportunities for Kempe’s Trauma Responsive Schools Programs. 

 

Kempe Recruiting Providers to Expand the CARE Network

Every year in Colorado, thousands of children are impacted by maltreatment, and yet the expertise to conduct medical exams and behavioral health assessments to evaluate suspected cases of child abuse and neglect is still extremely limited. That’s why the Kempe Center is working to secure more health care and behavioral health providers across Colorado to join the Child Abuse Response and Evaluation (CARE) Network.

About the CARE Network

The CARE Network engages health care and behavioral health providers – pediatricians, family doctors, school nurses and more – with the best education and training on conducting medical exams and behavioral health assessments to identify signs and risks of child maltreatment or trauma. Providers also learn about the resources available to families to mitigate those risks and expand the safety net for children. More information on the CARE Network can be found here.

What Providers Receive

  • Education and training about signs that children may be at risk of maltreatment and information on resources available to families that will position providers to recognize community-specific needs and help prevent child maltreatment
  • Best practice standards for evaluating children suspected of abuse or neglect
  • Review of provider evaluations and feedback to grow each provider’s skill set and knowledge base

Recruitment Efforts

We are working closely with counties across Colorado to identify and recruit medical and behavioral health providers. We encourage city and county human services directors as well as other professionals in the field to share this training opportunity and help us expand the network with referrals. The more providers we have in the CARE Network, the more families we can reach, reducing incidents of child maltreatment.

Learn more about the opportunity to be a part of the solution at kempecarenetwork.org.

Empowering Youth to Foster Healthy Futures

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on the vulnerability of children and youth in our communities, especially those experiencing trauma or involvement in the child welfare system. These youth are typically at an increased risk for adverse outcomes, but they are also capable of showing remarkable resilience with the right care.

The Kempe Center’s Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) program, a positive youth development program that uses mentoring and skills training to empower youth to foster their own healthy futures, has recently adapted in several ways in response to current events and policy mandates.

“We developed FHF based on the understanding that all young people have strengths they can leverage to thrive in their own way,” explains Heather Taussig, the creator and Director of FHF. “It has been a top priority for us to continue engaging with our youth, particularly those facing adversity during this unprecedented time.”

Adapting to the Pandemic and Beyond

In the wake of COVID-19, the FHF program team shifted to online mentoring and skills groups last spring. “Moving everything online was a challenge, certainly, but we’ve also noticed many positive benefits and plan to use these virtual tools beyond the pandemic,” said Jessica Corvinus, Director of Dissemination for the FHF program. “This year, we plan to offer a hybrid program of online skills groups with in-person mentoring to support those youth who live outside of the Denver metro area.”

Implementing a Family First Approach

Guided by the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) passed in 2018, the FHF program team has also shifted their focus to care for youth who have had a range of traumatic experiences – not just those in foster care.

According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, FFPSA has been characterized as the most significant child welfare legislation in over a decade. This federal law includes historic reforms to help keep children and youth safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care, and emphasizes the importance of children and youth growing up in families. In cases where foster care is needed, FFPSA helps ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate for their needs.

In alignment with FFPSA’s priority of reducing the number of youth placed in congregate care, the Acing Healthy Futures program works with youth who have had adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), providing them with the same evidence-based mentoring and skills training that are the hallmark of the FHF program.

“We recognized a need to provide our programming to youth living with birth families who have faced adverse childhood experiences,” says Corvinus. “That’s why it was important for us to introduce the Acing Healthy Futures program and focus our efforts on addressing major life stressors before they result in the need for child welfare involvement.”

What’s Next for FHF 

Moving ahead, the primary goal of FHF is to reach more youth outside the Denver Metro area by training additional agencies and professionals to run the program. The FHF program team recently received a Tony Grampsas Youth Services grant to help with this goal.

A donation to the Kempe Foundation can also support the expansion of FHF at a time when our youth truly need it most. You can help us reach more youth by donating today.

Kempe Professional Heather Taussig Receives Fulbright Award

Congratulations to Kempe professional Heather Taussig on receiving a 2020-21 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program Award to conduct research on innovative prevention programs for youth with adverse life experiences.

Heather is the creator and Program Director for Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF), a mentoring and skills training program for youth. In her research, she’ll have the opportunity to take a new look at extensive FHF data collected over the past two decades.

Heather plans to conduct research at Cardiff University’s Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) in Wales in 2021.

Congrats to Heather on this momentous achievement! Learn More.

Trauma-Responsive Schools: A New Frontier for Protecting Children

As the school year begins amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado students, parents and educators are facing new and persistent levels of uncertainty, stress, anxiety and loss. These feelings, especially over a prolonged period of time, can be especially traumatic for children.

Experts point to a large body of research demonstrating negative effects of trauma on students’ cognitive, academic, behavioral and social-emotional functioning in schools. Equipped with this research, child, youth and family serving systems across the state are exploring ways to re-design the educational experience to reflect an integrated school system that fosters healthy, safe, and responsive environments.

Trauma-Responsive Training for Educators

With Dr. Evelin Gomez leading the way, the Kempe Center’s trauma-informed practice team has been at the forefront of creating practices for schools that help mitigate the impact of trauma and promote healing for children. A trauma-responsive approach can also help educators have better interactions with their students and colleagues and even improve their own well-being.

“Training teachers on how to be mindful and fully present in the classroom – it seems simple but has a huge impact on kids and their ability to learn and stay engaged,” said Dr. Gomez.

In an effort to promote trauma-informed practices even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Gomez and her team have provided training, coaching and consultation for educators in partnership with the Office of Behavioral Health in the Colorado Department of Human Services. As the pandemic continues, bringing additional stress and trauma to light, Dr. Gomez hopes to increase trainings across the state utilizing the Colorado Trauma-Responsive Schools Theory of Change Toolkit.

“Many schools already have some trauma-informed practices in place. Our goal is to take what schools are already doing and equip them with the additional tools they need to better serve children, parents and teachers, especially as they navigate through the current crisis,” said Dr. Gomez.

Trauma-Informed Support for Parents

In addition to trauma-informed trainings, professionals are also exploring new ways of addressing trauma in the wake of COVID-19, including small group discussions between parents looking for connection and resources. These discussions, facilitated by school administrators, allow parents the opportunity to solve problems together.

“If you don’t have people helping you and supporting you, how can you feel effective as a parent?” said Dr. Steven Berkowitz, professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, on the topic of small group interactions. “Connection with one another is the only way parents can handle the uncertainty we’re currently facing.”

Dr. Berkowitz explains that when supported by the right programs that address families’ needs holistically, children are more likely to avoid additional traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect.

“These small group interactions aren’t just helpful for parents – they allow schools to check in on the well-being of students and identify any instances of impeded family functioning or early signs of maltreatment,” said Dr. Berkowitz.

By focusing on the implementation of trauma-responsive and culturally reflective practices within schools, the professionals at the Kempe Center are leading a comprehensive approach to enhance the opportunities for all Colorado children to be resilient and equipped to reach their full potential.

We know the path to healthy childhoods requires aligning and integrating systems to serve all children and families, advancing policies that prioritize children and families, and building capacity to expand programs demonstrated to work. Each of these things requires a commitment to innovation and an ability to incubate new models, like the Trauma-Responsive Implementation and Practice (TRIP) program.

Help us make our vision a reality by donating the critical funds needed to expand this program and build capacity to help all children and families. Support Kempe today.