Trying to ensure #NoKidWaits ever again

We at the Tennyson Center for Children will no longer tell kids experiencing trauma, mental health issues and associated behavioral challenges that they need to “wait” for help.

Colorado has seen a dramatic upsurge in the number of children needing support to heal from trauma, abuse, neglect and mental health issues. Denver alone has seen an 81% increase in the number of children removed from unsafe homes since 2015. This trend mirrors a similar national trend that shows an unprecedented numbers of kids are entering the child welfare system. Drug addiction is a major driver of this escalation, as is the greater awareness of abuse and neglect that is spurring increased reporting to agencies like Colorado’s Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline.

While state and county officials intervene appropriately to protect children and support safe families, their options are shrinking when it comes to helping kids and families whose world is unraveling.

Why? Because Colorado has seen a significant reduction of service providers focused on helping children heal, remain at home, or reintegrate into safer families, schools and society. Additionally, the number of families available to foster a child in need are declining, and adoptions are down nationwide.

In the past, state and county officials would identify a child in need and spend a short amount of time looking for an appropriate placement for that child. The official, taking into account that child’s particular healing and therapeutic needs, would pair them with a service provider whose skills and capacities generated the best chance for that child to heal.

This historically short placement time now seems like a lifetime for too many. Denver’s placement wait list extends to as long as 8 weeks, and Tennyson has at times had 40 kids on its “wait list.” In some Colorado counties with even less capacity than Denver, we have been told that “wait lists” can extend to 6 months.

The implications of waiting are profound.

Kids in crisis often miss school, even as teachers try but are increasingly unable to support their healing from severe trauma and mental health issues. Parents take time off from work to manage a kid in crisis at home, often losing their jobs as a result. This causes families to buckle under the emotional and financial pressure. They battle insurance companies for financial relief, and often hide their plight from the broader community for fear of being labelled “bad” parents who raised a “bad” kid, when nothing could be further from the truth. With so many obstacles, many families on waiting lists simply give up.

Children in crisis end up in hospital emergency rooms, in detention (until recently), or have run-ins with police at great financial costs to society.

In short, these extended wait lists make the healing journey harder for kids experiencing trauma, as well as for their families and society. We have spoken to too many kids and to too many moms who, with tears in their eyes, plead for respite and hope. They are unable to wait.

The Tennyson Center for Children believes that all kids can heal from trauma if supported appropriately and quickly. Wait lists are anathema to the healing journey and must be eliminated.

And we are working to eliminate them, because we believe #NoKidWaits.

We have built a “bridge team” whose sole purpose is to intervene with children and families within 24 hours of notification. This bridge team enters into their homes and (if possible) their schools so that healing no longer depends on waiting.

The bridge team consists of child and family counselors who stabilize the child and family, and offer initial therapeutic support for as long as needed in a way that eases the child’s eventual transition to more long-term support.

The team also includes a financial expert who will help the family access support from insurance companies, and help families in crisis access other services and finances in ways that limits the financial disruptions that often undermines healing and tears families apart.

Our short-term target is to eliminate Tennyson’s wait list by October so that no child or family in need ever waits for Tennyson’s longer-term services to become available to them. Our longer-term ambition is to offer state and county officials (as well as other service providers) with a model of short-term bridge support that can eliminate wait lists statewide, and we will offer our services to other service providers — eliminating their wait lists even if the kid never comes to Tennyson. No kid in Colorado should wait for help, especially when we have seen time and again that with immediate and thoughtful help they can recover and thrive most effectively.