Representatives Ransom, co-prime bill sponsor, presented Senate Bill 20-162. This bill makes several changes to the child welfare system to align state law with the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, as described below.
Out-of-home placements. The bill makes several changes to out-of-home placements. First, the bill limits the placement of children between the ages of 5 and 18 in residential child care facilities, but allows children under the age of 5 to be placed if accompanied by a parent. Second, the bill increases the minimum age for placement in specialized group facilities from 3 years of age to 7. Children under the age of 7 may be placed in a group facility if accompanied by a parent. Third, the bill requires residential child care facilities to be licensed annually.
Qualified residential treatment programs. Before a child is placed in a qualified residential treatment program (QRTP), a court or the Administrative Review Division (division) of the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) in a case where a juvenile has been committed to the Division of Youth Services, must first consider a placement assessment prepared by a qualified individual within 60 days (unless there is an objection, then 30 days) after the new placement. In considering the placement, the court or the division must give great weight to the recommendation for placement provided by the qualified individual. If the court or the division deviates from the assessment and recommendation, the body must make specific findings of fact regarding the most effective, appropriate, and least restrictive placement for the child.
After the initial hearing, the bill requires that a subsequent hearing, in front of either the court or the division, review evidence submitted by a county at least every 90 days during the duration of the placement in a QRTP.
Juvenile justice system. Before committing a youth to the custody of the Division of Youth Services in the CDHS, the bill requires the court to make a finding that the commitment is not the result of a lack of available QRTP placements.
Foster care prevention services. The bill allows counties to provide child welfare and prevention services, which includes foster care prevention services to families, kin caregivers, and children. The bill also makes information concerning prevention services and referrals confidential and not available to the public.
Child Welfare Services Task Force recommendations. The bill requires the Child Welfare Services Task Force to make recommendations on a method to incentivize counties to provide services and placements based on the child's needs by December 15, 2020. After the recommendations are made, the CDHS must submit a report to the Joint Budget Committee on or before January 15, 2021, outlining the recommendations from the task force.
Appropriations. Finally, the bill reduces General Fund appropriations to the Executive Director's Office for Employment and Regulatory Affairs within the CDHS and refinances this existing spending in the FY 2020-21 Long Bill with a reappropriation of indirect cost recoveries. The General Fund savings are used to offset the cost of implementing Families First.
The sponsor answered questions from the committee.