How to Help Migrant Families Separated at the Border
Earlier this year, approximately 2,000 children were separated from their parents under the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" border enforcement program. Parents were detained and criminally prosecuted for illegal entry before being sent to immigration detention centers. Children were placed with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (which was previously focused on children entering the country alone) and placed in government-licensed shelters.
A federal judge ordered the administration to reunify children under 5 years old with their parents by July 10 and the remaining children by July 26. Although a significant number of the children have been reunited, many remain separated, including children whose parents were physically deported without them. In addition, some reunited families have been placed in immigration detention together.
"The problem is that the government sent the children wherever there was space, all over the country," says Katie Glynn, immigration attorney with Grob & Eirich. "There was no tracking mechanism in place, and the government admitted they don't know where some of the parents and some of the children are located."
When families are separated, children suffer undue trauma. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association released statements that this administration's practice of forcibly separating families will have long-term negative consequences for the children.
Grob & Eirich is a "family building law firm." We support keeping families together. Here in Colorado, there are many local efforts to fight this policy and reunite migrant families. Here are a few ways you can help:
- Call your congressmen and congresswomen to express your concern that not all families have been reunited.
- Help immigrant parents and/or relatives get legal representation. The faster a detained parent gets out of detention, the faster the parent can locate and reunify with her/his child.
- Support organizations like the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) www.rmian.org and Casa de Paz www.casadepazcolorado.org.
Disparities in Adoption Subsidies Unfair to Families
An Interview with Colorado's Child Protection Ombudsman, Stephanie Villafuerte
The Child Protection Ombudsman office released an investigative report about disparities and inconsistencies in how adoption assistance services are being determined and provided across the state. We sat down with Colorado's Child Protection Ombudsman, Stephanie Villafuerte, to learn more about the report and next steps.
How did this project start?
In July 2016, we received complaints from community partners and families about disparities in adoption subsidy programs and inconsistencies in practices among county human services departments across the state. Some families had adopted children in different counties and went through very different processes with different results depending on what county the child was living.
We started an extensive 16-month investigation working collaboratively with the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), county departments, non-profit adoption agencies and dozens of adoptive families. We collected information about the number of adoptions; subsidy amounts; how a child's needs were determined; forms; budgets; and much more. We interviewed over 40 families and experts.
What was the goal?
Our goal was to find out if there were discrepancies in the subsidy amounts, differences in administration of programs and if so, to identify the root causes of the problems. The fact that cash subsidies are different in each county does not necessarily indicate that there is a problem. In fact, federal law contemplates that each adoption subsidy should be specifically tailored to that child's needs. We wanted to know whether adoptive families and children who are similarly situated were being treated similarly.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from the investigation?
We learned that Colorado needs a system that allows every family equal opportunity and equal access to the adoption subsidy program. To be clear, we did not advocate that every child gets an equal subsidy amount, but rather that the process to apply and evaluation tools are the same. We need a program that is standardized but still allows for flexibility to determine a child's needs. We issued a total of 13 recommendations to the state and the legislature for program improvements.
What has happened since the report came out?
The report was received very favorably. We worked closely with adoption stakeholders throughout the process so there was no surprise about our findings. In fact, many of our partners at the county and state human service level helped us identify the challenges and potential solutions. The Colorado Department of Human Services agreed with 12 of the 13 recommendations and developed a two-year strategic plan to implement the recommendations. Additionally, the Colorado General Assembly has expressed an interest in updating Colorado's adoption subsidy statute.
How did funding impact the disparities in subsidy amounts?
We discovered that the funding mechanism wasn't working in the best interest of Colorado's children. The county departments receive a block grant from the state in which they must fund a variety of child welfare programs including emergency child protection calls, foster care, therapeutic services, adoption subsidies and many other programs. The money is finite and county human service departments are required to respond to those individuals with the most pressing needs. For example, this was a problem in a jurisdiction that saw an increase in child abuse calls in a given year. This funding stream required agencies to choose between funding child protection work on one hand, and adoption subsidies on the other. Since this time, we worked with a group of legislators on Senate Bill 254, which went into effect July 2018, to revise the funding mechanism. The state will pay out subsidies directly. This money is separate from the funds needed to run other programs.
Will there be additional legislation?
Yes. A group of senators and representatives are working on new legislation that will address inconsistencies and update the statutes. The laws have not been updated since 1974, and one of the issues we uncovered was the differences in interpretation of the laws and rules. This legislation is set to be introduced in January 2019.
Will there be more investigative reports on these issues?
Yes. The report also pointed out there are few adoption services available for families in our state. We have wonderful people who adopt children from the system, and while the cash subsidies are important, families are in need of therapeutic care. One of the most common complaints we heard from families was that Medicaid does not pay for the high needs of these children. We will follow up on this issue with a future investigative report.
How can adoptive families help?
Adoptive families should read the report and be advocates for their children. I hope people get engaged. Policy is only as good as the people who get involved with it.
'Founded' Allegations of Abuse or Neglect: What are they and what do you do?
Adoptive and foster parents do all they can to help the children in their care, yet in some circumstances, still find themselves in "trouble" with the department of human services through a "founded" allegation of abuse and neglect.
Tim Eirich shares an example of how this can occur. "We often see founded allegations with adoptive parents of special needs children, or foster parents, who are naturally under close supervision by the local Department of Human Services. Some recent cases we have handled involve situations in which a foster child was bit by a foster parents' dog and the local county made a founded allegation of abuse or neglect. While local counties have some discretion in making determinations about these cases, they often err on the side of making a founded allegation."
A "founded" allegation of abuse and neglect, also known as an administrative finding, is an internal finding by a local department of human services where a person has done something "wrong" resulting in a child being at risk of harm. While a person against whom a founded allegation is made may also face criminal charges and/or a dependency or neglect case, some of the cases we handle involve situations in which a parent solely has a founded allegation of abuse or neglect without any other companion criminal or civil case.
Colorado has a state supervised and county administered human services system. As such, all founded allegations are sent to the State Department of Human Services.
When the State Department of Human Services receives a founded allegation from the local county Department of Human Services, the State Department of Human Services sends a letter to the person against whom the allegation is made. The letter advises the person that there is a 90-day response period to request an appeal of the founded allegation. If a response is not received, the person's name is added to Colorado's child abuse registry in the internal TRAILS system of the Colorado Department of Human Services. Unlike a dependency and neglect case, this founded allegation will come up in a TRAILS background check for the individual and will indicate that the person has a founded allegation of abuse or neglect.
"The real problem with a founded allegation is that it can impact the person's ability to work with kids in any way, as a nurse, teacher or even volunteer at their own children's school," says Kellyn Nagel, attorney with Grob & Eirich. "And it can certainly impact a person's professional licensure."
Seth Grob adds, "Moreover, having a founded allegation can impact a person's ability to adopt a child years later."
"A founded allegation can have a long-term impact on someone's life and oftentimes it should not have such an impact," says Tim. "We routinely work with clients to appeal the decision at the state level and work to get the person's name off the child abuse registry."
Bethany Christian Services
Bethany Christian Services (
) has been a longstanding client of Grob & Eirich, and recently brought on a new executive director, Melissa Carson.
Melissa brings a tremendous background to Bethany Christian Services. She served as a social worker for 27 years in children's mental health and residential treatment, and then 11 years as a caseworker for Denver Department of Human Services.
During Melissa's time with human services, she worked extensively with Tim Eirich when he was with the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center. "We did many projects together including the best practice court team," states Melissa. "Tim also facilitated our group to develop a strategic plan to reduce kids in congregate care."
One of Melissa's goals at Bethany is to recruit foster parents. Due to the increase in population and the opioid epidemic, Colorado needs 1,200 additional foster parents.
"Here at Bethany, we've hired a foster care recruiter to help," says Melissa. "We are also a great resource. We have a solid foster care team and we provide foster parent training and support to help parents understand what these kids have been through."
Tim says he is excited to have Melissa taking over at Bethany. "Melissa is super bright and responsive. She understands the complexities of everyone's role and is always easy to work with."
"Tim has great energy," says Melissa. "He is always proactive and likes to come up with solutions, not just grumble about problems. He is also up-to-date with recent practices, plus he has a great sense of humor."
Grob & Eirich welcomes Melissa's leadership and looks forward to serving this agency both with their adoptive and foster parent legal needs.
Grob & Eirich was honored to be the silver sponsor for Baby Steps 5k benefiting Colorado Christian Services, one of the firm's adoption agency clients. The run took place on June 23 at DeKoevend Park in Centennial, Colorado. This was the first time Colorado Christian Services hosted a 5k run.
Over 125 runners competed, and Seth's entire family participated including his wife, Stephanie, and daughters, Sydney (21) and Sierra (18). Sydney and Sierra finished first and third respectively, in the women's division, and third and fifth overall among all participants. Seth finished ninth overall.
"It was really fun and a great event to participate in. We are glad that Colorado Christian Services was able to raise funds to support their adoption programming," says Seth.
Presentations and Committees
Duke University Law School, Silent Victims: Foster Care and Foster Care Adoption in America: ("The Opioid Crisis: What Can Be Done for the Children"), (Durham, November 2018).
Adoption Options, "Expedited Relinquishments and Contested Adoptions," (Denver, July 2018)
Family Formation Charitable Trust of AAAA, Grant Review Committee [2018-2019]
Adoption Options, "Expedited Relinquishments and Contested Adoptions," (Denver, July 2018)
Legal Rights of Foster Parents in Colorado Dependency and Neglect Cases
(Adams County, May 2018)
Colorado Bar Association, Juvenile Law Section, Chair-Elect [2018-2019]
Legal Rights of Foster Parents in Colorado Dependency and Neglect Cases (Adams County, May 2018)