Independent Assessment rolls out in Douglas and Weld Counties

March 5, 2021

Child welfare staff and key partners in Douglas and Weld Counties began implementing the Independent Assessor requirement of the Family First Prevention Services Act. Family First is a federal law that allows local child welfare agencies to use federal funding to pay for services that keep kids safe, growing up in their families.

What is an Independent Assessor? Children and youth who can’t grow up safely at home should be in the least restrictive setting, ideally with a kin or foster family. However, sometimes young people need services and treatment at a facility to achieve stability before transitioning to a family-like setting or returning home.

Among many changes to the out-of-home placement continuum, Family First creates a new facility license type called a Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP). Family First requires the use of an independent assessment to determine the level of care a young person may need. 

How will this work? Once a county determines a child or youth may benefit from care and treatment at a QRTP, the county will make a referral for an independent assessment. The Colorado Department of Human Services has contracted with Signal Behavioral Health Network and Beacon Health Options to implement the independent assessor process in Douglas County and Weld County, respectively.

Colorado has selected the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment tool to be one aspect of the independent assessment process. Watch a presentation with Drs. John S. Lyons and April D. Fernando, who developed the CANS tool. 

How is the independent assessment used? The independent assessment is used to develop a shared treatment and care plan. Counties will notify family members, children and youth about the process and will schedule a family and permanency meeting within eight days of the referral for an independent assessment to bring all concerned parties together. During those eight days, the independent assessment will be completed.  

At that meeting, everyone will discuss treatment and care goals and determine if QRTP is the level of treatment required. This recommendation as well as the independent assessment will be presented to a judicial officer who will make the final determination.

What happens next? Douglas and Weld Counties are the first two Colorado counties to implement the independent assessment process. CDHS will be engaging in a continuous quality improvement process with the two counties in preparation for a statewide roll-out.

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