DENVER — There are nearly half a million children in foster care across the United States, many of whom have experienced some level of trauma. Social workers are focused on recruiting families to take on the highest-level cases to give those children some stability.
Ronny DeCarlo always knew she wanted to be a foster parent.
“Like really, always. I knew that, that really called to me," she said. "I really believe that it takes a village to raise children.”
For the last year, DeCarlo and her husband have been foster parents. But the kids they’ve taken in have been through more than most.
“The fact that these kiddos were taken out of their home typically means that there was some sort of traumatic experience that they have had in their life. They’ve been in other care facilities, like residential treatment centers or psychiatric hospitalizations, places like that and often frequently,” she explained.
DeCarlo is a practicing therapist and she’s exactly the type of person the Denver Department of Human Services is looking to enroll in its Therapeutic Foster Care program.
“I think a good candidate who first has really the desire to work with this population. And also has some expertise and background. That professional level that really can meet their day to day needs,” said Amy Espinosa with the Denver Department of Human Services.
In 2011, fewer than 1% of kids in foster care in the United States were using therapeutic foster care programs, through Medicaid.
While it is a small population, it is still an extremely vulnerable one.
“What we know about these kiddos is that it often becomes a prison pipeline,” said DeCarlo.
Being removed from your family is a traumatic event, so what separates this group from others in foster care?
“Every time that poor child moves, there’s more trauma again. And when you sometimes see children who've been moved six, seven, eight times or more, they’re extremely traumatized and that often shows out in some emotional, behavioral challenges,” said Sue Evans, the COO for Walden Family Services, an adoption and foster care agency.
She says moving children retraumatizes them on top of any abuse, neglect or other trauma they may have experienced before coming to foster services.
“It’s very, very important that we try and keep that child in that one home. Every time a child moves, you’re disrupting all those services and often you’re going back 10 steps,” said Evans.
That’s why people like Evans and Espinosa recruit people like DeCarlo.
“What we’re finding is with the right support and with the right care and nurturing in a home setting, they tend to not have a lot of those issues and they can get better,” said Espinosa.
“It’s extremely important that there’s a family there for every child; we just need to find them,” said Evans.
In this case, they’ve found DeCarlo and she loves being there for these kids.
“Really fills my heart up to think about how much has been brought into my life through this experience. I consider them to be family and they consider me to be family and so they refer to me as Aunt Ronny. They have moms. They’re not looking for another mom, but I don’t think you can have too many aunts,” said DeCarlo.