Child abuse a growing problem in county

Human services budget is $26.3 million for 2013

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Problems with troubled and abused children in Douglas County are no different than any other place, says Dan Makelky, assistant human services director for the county.

“At any given time, we have approximately 400 kids (receiving) services, and about 100 kids placed in foster care,” said Makelky, citing prescription drug abuse, domestic violence and general neglect as the biggest issues he sees regularly.

Douglas County ranks ninth out of Colorado’s 64 counties in reported child abuse cases, which have been increasing over the past five years, Makelky said. He said the increase has a lot to do with the growing demographic of young families and the continuous growth in the county’s population.  

“One of our goals is to provide a safety net for those citizens who find themselves in a situation where they need assistance,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jack Hilbert, who is co-chairing the state’s new child abuse hotline task force that will create a call center to direct calls around the state to all counties 24/7. “We want to be able to offer a hand up, and while these programs are mandated by the state or the federal government, they are some of the most important programs we offer.”

The goal of the county’s placement prevention services program is to resolve familial issues and return children safely home if they have to be temporarily removed. And although that isn’t always a possibility, Makelky said the bulk of families the county works with wind up being success stories and don’t require further intervention.

“I think it’s important for people to know that we do a lot more good than we do harm,” he said. “But every family is different and what works for one may not work for the other. It’s important that we have a lot of options to work with.”

The budget for the county’s placement prevention services program is $900,000, a small portion of the $26.3 million that the county will spend on human services in 2013. Only $48,000 of the total sum is generated by property tax dollars, however, as the majority of the money comes from the state or federal government.

The county commissioners recently allocated the spending of up to $515,000 in federal funding to cover placement prevention contracts for psychiatric services, foster care and residential placements, as well as a contract for services with the Colorado Boys Ranch Foundation, which does a variety of things for troubled families.

“The really cool, unique thing about Colorado Boys Ranch is that they meet the family where they are,” Makelky said. “A lot of our treatment is research-based. It deals with families with traditional issues like money, budgeting, bedtimes as well as scheduling how to keep kids in the family, and keep them on track. It’s not all about therapy.”

Most of the cases the county sees are referred to them by the courts or through social services, but Makelky said there are some self-reported cases where the risk level is high enough to provide some level of social services to the family. Often, those cases are the result of the family needing services beyond what their insurance will cover.

“People don’t always know what county government does,” said Douglas County spokeswoman Wendy Holmes. “This is just one of those services that a lot of people don’t think about. They think we are a wealthy county. They think we are well-educated county, we have a good school system, we have beautiful homes, but children can be at risk and this helps fill those gaps for those who need it.”

Douglas County has its own 24/7 child-abuse hotline that has been active for the last 15 years. To report child abuse or neglect, people are asked to call 303-663-6270.