National campaign to ensure bright futures for kids in foster care takes root in Colorado

June 3, 2020

CHAMPS (Children Need Amazing Parents) is a national campaign to spur policy improvements both nationally and through state partners to ensure children in foster care experience the highest quality parenting.

CHAMPS recently launched a new chapter here in Colorado. The Office of Children, Youth and Families spoke to its founder, Lindsay Gilchrist, to learn more about the initiative. Launched in May in partnership with Foster Source CHAMPS Colorado will work with the Colorado Department of Human Services and several counties to promote foster and kin families as a vital component of the child welfare system.

What is CHAMPS Colorado?

Lindsay: We just launched in May, National Foster Care Month, in partnership with Foster Source, where they work to nurture and better educate foster families. CHAMPS Colorado is a part of a national campaign to ensure quality parenting for all children in foster care. Our two main focuses are county and state engagement.

CHAMPS National and CHAMPS Colorado were designed to be innovative to adapt to what counties and the state need. The initiative is meant to be a value-add providing feedback and programmatic assistance where it’s needed.

What made you want to get involved with CHAMPS?

Lindsay: I'm a foster and adoptive parent in Denver County. We adopted our two youngest kids in July of last year, and we have remained certified as foster parents.  I'm also a CASA and have been one for the last five years. In those experiences, I have seen ways that we could strengthen foster and kin family programs to ensure better outcomes for kids. That's really where my day-to-day inspiration comes from. And then also my professional experience, I work in the policy and advocacy world and have for over a decade now. I have seen firsthand how important it is to have good public policies. I think it's really been a combination of that professional and very personal experience that led me to develop the CHAMPS Colorado initiative.

What is your primary goal for CHAMPS?

Lindsay: The vision for CHAMPS Colorado is that when kids enter into the foster care system that there is a well-equipped family-based placement for those kids, so they are able to thrive in those environments and successfully find permanency. We also must ensure we have enough foster and kin families to meet the need for placement for kids. The goal is for CHAMPS Colorado to eventually be a statewide initiative and that we would have a real opportunity to engage the foster and kin family voice in the implementation of child welfare policies. The overall goal is better outcomes for kids in the system.

How does CHAMPS plan to collaborate with counties?

Lindsay: On the county level, I think we want to hear from counties about what their needs are, where they see areas for strengthening their foster and kin programs. We plan to do some data collection on foster and kin families within counties in collaboration with the county to ensure that we're getting some of the nuances of what foster and kin families need in Denver County versus Larimer versus Douglas, etc. CHAMPS national also has some really good best practices for creating advisory councils that we are hoping to use in the design of councils that could actually impact policy decisions. We will also explore how to assist with the recruitment and retention of resource families.

How does CHAMPS Colorado plan on collaborating on the state level?

Lindsay: On the state level, there's so much going on with the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act. The staff implementing this new law are really interested in how they can engage the family voice; the voice of the bio family, foster family, kin family, and kids in care. We will be thinking through with those staff about how we create a mechanism to engage that voice in a strategic way that represents collectively what those families need.

What have you done so far to identify the needs of their foster and kin families in Colorado?

Lindsay: We're just starting to dig in with counties. We've had a couple of initial discussions with some counties on what their needs are, how many foster and kin families they have, how do we fill the need for family-based placements? Our hope is in the next month, we would solidify who those pilot two to three counties will be. And then on the state engagement, CHAMPS is participating in the implementation work on Family First and trying to evaluate where the best place to engage is and also talking about the state work on retention and recruitment and how we can be helpful there as well.

How is CHAMPS partnering with Foster Source?

Lindsay: Foster Source does really incredible work around supporting foster and kin families all over the state. They have really amazing training programs. They provide tangible supports, like weighted blankets or bedding for children and all kinds of different things for foster and kin families to ensure they can be successful in caring for children. They also facilitate support groups and they engage with counties on helping with recruitment and retention as well. They had existing relationships with counties that I really felt like CHAMPS Colorado could build off, and their work was aligned with CHAMPS' vision and mission. We saw that we could really accelerate some of the CHAMPS work through an amazing organization that has been established in Colorado and is doing some of this work already.

Foster Source also really has a finger on the pulse of what foster and kin families need around the state. Being able to tap into that as well and ensuring that the collective voice of foster and kin families is heard.

Learn more about Glichrist and read her recent Op-Ed in the Colorado Sun.

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