Imagine an eight-year-old waking up in a new place far away from his parents, home, identity, and culture. Having to eat food that is different from what he is used to, with strangers telling him when to go to school, take a shower and go to bed. This is the heart-wrenching reality that Nate Bustamante faced when the child welfare system removed him from his mother due to concerns about his well-being.
After being involved in the child welfare system as both a child and a parent, Nate now uses his voice and lived experience in the system to advocate for positive change.
For four years, Nate cycled through twenty-six foster homes and attended thirty-six elementary schools. During his teenage years, he became involved in the juvenile system and was indicted when he turned eighteen.
The challenges in Nate’s life persisted into his adulthood. He and his partner lived an unhealthy lifestyle. He was incarcerated and had another encounter with the child welfare system. On this occasion, two of their four children were temporarily separated from them.
Nate recalls this part of his life as “an emotional journey and probably the hardest part of my experience as a parent in the child welfare system.”
Although he and his wife had all the odds against them, their mutual support and love for their children fueled a determination to turn their lives around. After two years of hard work, they reunited with their kids.
Nate recalls the day the case closed, saying, “I remember going home that day and it felt like the first time I ever sat down. I actually just started crying.”
Nate and his wife started a new chapter and they wanted to help families going through the same journey. “We were talking about going to Jefferson County courthouse where the child welfare courts are and start offering support to those families,” Nate said.
Unexpectedly, the Office of Respondent Parents Counsel (ORPC) invited both Nate and his wife to become parent advocates. Without hesitation, Nate and his wife reengaged with the child welfare system, this time supporting parents in their child welfare journeys.
Nate takes immense pride in being among the first parents to participate in the ORPC Parent Advocate Program. He emphasizes the program’s ongoing expansion and its unique feature of offering parents both support and legal defense, an element that sets Colorado apart.
Nate’s personal experiences have allowed him to engage in numerous scenarios where he shares his story on a one-on-one basis with parents, positively influencing their perspectives.
Nate’s role as a parent advocate later facilitated his involvement in two state child welfare task forces – the Pre Adolescent Task Force and the Mandatory Reporter Task Force. He also serves as a board member of the Child Welfare Family Advisory Council (FAC) and is participating in the Reimagining Child Welfare Steering Committee, among other roles.
As part of the FAC and the Reimagining the Child Welfare Steering Committee, Nate recognizes the vital role he and other members serve in offering legislators their perspectives about how families involved in child welfare are impacted by the system, and which services they need. It is a space for discussing how prevention services can avert the separation of a family.
Nate’s mission as an FAC member is clear: to work towards reducing the number of children removed from their families and establish consistent access to services across all Colorado counties.
Looking back, he couldn’t have foreseen his transformation five years ago.
“I never thought getting to this place was possible. And I never thought I could be where I am today, in such a healthy and happy home,” said Nate.
With a commitment to the cause, Nate eagerly anticipates the next three decades of his life, dedicated to creating real change in the child welfare system.The Colorado Department of Human Services has more opportunities for people with lived experience in Colorado’s child welfare system to share their perspectives and work toward positive transformation in child welfare. Apply to the Child Welfare Family Advisory Council.