From the Colorado Sun Jennifer Brown

The plan follows a Colorado Sun/9News investigative series on the number of runaways from youth residential facilities, plus months of meetings

Agroup of child protection advocates including the state ombudsman and a lawmaker will push for a massive overhaul of Colorado’s residential centers for kids in foster care or with severe mental health issues.

They’ve set their sights on copying a Florida law that revamped the way centers in that state are evaluated to make sure kids are getting better — not worse — after a residential stay. The plan, expected to come up for debate at the state legislature in 2022, comes after months of meetings that included the child protection ombudsman, directors of several Colorado youth residential facilities and, at times, officials from the state child welfare division.

A playground at Tennyson Center for Children, which provides services for foster children in northwest Denver. Tennyson closed its residential program in 2021. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

The meetings began soon after The Colorado Sun and 9News published a series of stories exposing a dangerous runaway problem at residential centers. The joint investigation found that two boys, ages 12 and 15, were struck by cars and killed in the night after running away from different centers in the Denver area. The facilities, which under state law are not allowed to lock the doors, routinely send staff to follow children and teens down the streets in an attempt to coax them back. And they call the police — multiple times per week and in some cases, an average of once per day — to help round up the children.


The push for reform also comes as Colorado faces a shortage of beds for children in mental health crisis. Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora reports that its emergency department is often filled with kids who are suicidal, and that children sometimes stay for weeks while their families search for an available bed at a residential facility.

Since 2007 in Colorado, 44 residential child facilities have closed, a loss of 2,200 therapeutic beds, according to a count by the Colorado Association of Family and Children’s Agencies, which represents residential centers.

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