DENVER (Sept. 19, 2023) — September is National Kinship Care Month, and on Sept. 15, the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) hosted a kickoff event for the new Colorado Kinnected Kinship Navigator Program at the Adams County Government Center.
Kinship care is an arrangement in which children who are unable to live with their biological parents are placed in the care of relatives or close family friends instead of being placed in traditional foster care or group homes. In kinship care, the child is placed with someone who has an existing relationship with the child, such as a relative, godparent, coach, teacher or neighbor.
The Kinship Navigator Program supports children, youth and their families who are involved in child welfare. Under the program, families have a “navigator” who acts as a primary point of contact for kinship caregivers. The model focuses on family search and engagement, facilitated family engagement meetings and kinship supports (such as hard goods, family engagement, and training). Seven Colorado counties piloted the program from June 2020 to December 2021, and will share their expertise with counties interested in implementing Colorado Kinnected.
At the Sept. 15 event, representatives from Adams, Boulder, Denver, El Paso, Jefferson, Mesa and Morgan counties and kinship caregiver panelists discussed their experiences implementing the pilot program. Colorado’s program was the third kinship navigator program rated by the federal government and the second program approved for additional federal funding. Colorado Kinnected is also in the process of being evaluated to be considered as an exemplary program by a leading national advocacy group,the Grandfamilies and Kinship Support Network.
“The Colorado Kinnected Kinship Navigator Program expands on existing supports for children, youth and caregivers involved in a kinship placement," said Minna Castillo Cohen, director of CDHS’s Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF). "This model ensures that families receive ongoing support throughout the placement with someone who can support the whole family.”
In Colorado, 2,428 kinship families are involved in caring for children and youth who are involved in child welfare, as of June 30. Research from Generations United and the Colorado State University School of Social Work has shown that children and youth involved in child welfare who are placed in kinship care experience better outcomes than their counterparts in higher levels of care, including higher rates of reunification with their parents and decreased chances of stays in higher levels of care.
“A randomized, controlled trial of Colorado Kinnected revealed that the Kinship Navigator Program promotes reunification with parents,” said Joe Homlar, director of Child Welfare for OCYF. “It also allows children and youth in child welfare kinship care to remain in the least restrictive setting possible.”
The Sept. 15 event featured panel discussions with Colorado kinship families who participated in the Kinship Navigator Program who shared their experiences. Meet the panelists:
Leana DeFurio and her husband had recently become empty-nesters when they welcomed their 10-year-old nephew into their home in 2020 because he needed a safe place to go. As part of the Colorado Kinnected pilot program through Boulder County, the DeFurios had a kinship worker who supported them throughout their nephew’s case. They also received trauma-informed training, financial support and therapeutic services. Although they initially thought their nephew would be with them for only a short time, they legally adopted him this summer.
In January of 2022, Laura and her husband found out one of her husband’s relatives had a child placed in foster care. Less than a week later, their family of five became a family of six with the addition of a 3-½-month-old baby girl. A few days after that, they began the certification process. As part of the Colorado Kinnected pilot program through Boulder County, the Giggy family has a kinship worker who supports them and helps them navigate challenging family relationships and strengthen connections within their extended family. The Giggys also appreciated being invited to family and respite events hosted by Boulder County and Foster Source, which gave them the opportunity to spend quality family time together and have a chance to recharge and reconnect and meet other kinship caregivers.