From the Colorado Sun Jennifer Brown

“We don’t do this to kids with cancer.” Residential treatment centers for youth have warned for years that they’re headed for collapse.

The operators of Colorado’s youth residential treatment centers, where children with the most acute mental health struggles go to recover, have warned for years that the system could fall apart without more funding.

There are signs it’s happening now. 

Suicidal kids are waiting weeks, sometimes months, in hospital emergency rooms for a bed at a treatment center. Child welfare caseworkers are sleeping in county buildings or hotel rooms with children and teens when they can find no safe place for them to go. Dozens of kids are going to treatment centers out of state because Colorado’s options are so slim. And the Colorado centers that have stayed open are often overwhelmed, and spend hours each day chasing after children and teens who run away

Statue figures of children playing outside the Mount Saint Vincent home pictured on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Denver, CO. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)

More than 1,000 beds, and 44 youth treatment centers, have closed since 2007. Of the 40 centers left in Colorado, only a handful are willing to take young people with the most severe mental and behavioral health problems. 

A coalition that includes not just the treatment centers but Children’s Hospital Colorado and county human service directors is pointing toward a solution, one put in the works last year by the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. They are on a lobbying campaign to get lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis to act on an actuarial study that found it would cost $76 million to fully fund Colorado’s residential centers for children with severe mental health needs. 

 “We know what it would cost and it’s a lot of money,” said Becky Miller Updike, director of the Colorado Association of Family and Children’s Agencies, which represents some of the largest youth residential centers in the state. “And we need to pony up and figure out how to put it into place so we can build the continuum.”

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