Topic: In the News

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. 

 

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.

Ron Mitchell Named Deputy Executive Director for the Kempe Center

The Kempe Center and the Kempe Foundation are pleased to announce the appointment of Ron Mitchell, MSW as the new Deputy Executive Director for the Kempe Center. Mitchell joins the Kempe team with over 30 years of dedication to public human services work and a passion for improving the lives of children through research, system reforms and legislative efforts.

“I am truly honored to begin this next chapter with such a phenomenal organization,” said Mitchell. “The team I’m working with is passionate and driven to create lasting change.”

As Deputy Director, Mitchell will take on the responsibility of developing and coordinating key strategic partnerships for the Center. He will also provide support and direction for projects related to the implementation of evidence-based and promising practices, systems of care and child health across multiple entities.

One of the projects Mitchell will lead, along with Dr. Antonia Chiesa, is the CARENetwork, which develops and maintains a standardized, coordinated response to child abuse and neglect through a network of designated healthcare providers.

“A child’s outcomes in the system shouldn’t be based on where they live. There needs to be a standard approach across the board, and I’m dedicated to moving us toward that goal with the CARENetwork and other projects,” said Mitchell.

Prior to joining the Kempe team, Mitchell’s career included work in child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health and fiscal administration. He worked for Denver County and Mesa County, as well as Colorado’s Division of Youth Services, and has been the director of two residential child care facilities. He was also a co-author of one of the initial comprehensive child welfare system reform plans adopted in Colorado, the components of which would be used both in Colorado and nationally to dramatically reduce the numbers of children in out of home placement, and preserve more children with their biological and kinship families.

We are thrilled to welcome Mitchell to the Kempe team and look forward to engaging him in our work to help position the Kempe Center as a catalyst driving overall systemic change.

Kempe Child Protection Doctors Recognized for Professional Excellence

The Kempe Center’s Child Protection Team plays a critical role in our community, providing evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of children for suspected physical or sexual abuse or neglect. The professionals who make up the Child Protection Team share unmatched compassion and dedication to helping the children and families they serve. Two of the distinguished members of the team were recently recognized for their professional excellence and commitment in their work.

Denise C. Abdoo, PhD, cPNP has been elected to a two-year term to the Children’s Hospital Colorado Medical Board. Denise has been on the pediatric faculty at Kempe since 2003 and was nominated by a senior PNP colleague in the department. This important position is voted on by the entire medical staff and offers a great service to the hospital.

 

Andrew Sirotnak, MD, who has served on the Kempe Center Child Protection Team for over 25 years, has been selected as a faculty member in the Young Physicians Leadership Alliance Program (YPLA) of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Through this prestigious program, Dr. Sirotnak will, over a period of approximately 3 years, serve with other selected senior faculty members, working with one or more early career physician faculty members to create and present teaching sessions as part of the YPLA curriculum. Beyond the teaching role, these faculty members will also serve as coaches for an assigned group of program participants.

The Kempe Foundation joins the Center in congratulating Drs. Denise and Andy on these truly amazing accomplishments.

 

Kempe Continues to Adapt Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

During the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 crisis, Kempe is committed to supporting the frontline workers who continue to care for Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens – our children and youth. The Kempe Center recently launched its Kempe COVID-19 Virtual Village to allow these frontline workers to connect with experts, share best practices and generate solutions for protecting children and helping families during these challenging times.

The Kempe COVID-19 Virtual Village is an online, integrated learning environment and open space for all child welfare health professionals, legal experts, law enforcement and others who are working to prevent and treat child maltreatment.

The Virtual Village hosted its first two online learning sessions on April 8 & 9, featuring Dr. Steve Berkowitz, a child psychiatrist and expert in stress, trauma and resilience from the University of Colorado Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Berkowitz’s session centered on understanding what it means to be a professional working in service of children and families during this pandemic.

Following his presentation, attendees participated in a conversation highlighting the challenges they’re currently facing due to today’s unprecedented challenges. Both sessions were well-received, with both reaching maximum registration capacity.

The Virtual Village will continue to evolve as we gather additional feedback from professionals in the field. The goal is to provide the following:

  • A series of online conversations
  • A virtual library of resources
  • An ability to connect with local and national professionals from child welfare, healthcare providers/workers, kinship/foster parents, mental health professionals, legal experts, law enforcement and others working to prevent and treat child maltreatment
  • Vetted tools, data and information

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 also transitioned online to continue to support these vulnerable youth.

The FHF program is structured into two key components — skills group curriculum and one-on-one mentoring, both of which have had 100% participation since launching just two weeks ago. Both the skills group and mentor/mentees are using phone and video conferencing to conduct all sessions.

Jessica Corvinus, director of dissemination for the FHF program, says the change from in-person to online communication was a quick adaptation — one that has been embraced fully by those who run the program and its participants.

“Many of the children we serve are vulnerable for a host of different reasons, so I think there’s a lot of uncertainly with everything else going on, and it’s nice that we’re able to remain consistent. Our mentors always show up and this further demonstrates that we’re all still here and that we are able to provide that stability in this uncertain environment,” said Corvinus.

For more information on how Kempe is adapting during this time, stay tuned for our next Kempe In Action email on April 29, 2020.