Families deserve better

Human Services is working overtime to make that happen

RBC | The number of cases in which children have been removed from homes in Rio Blanco County has doubled in the last year, straining staff and budget resources.
According to Director of Human Services (formerly social services) Barb Bofinger, the majority of the increase is related to drug use.
“Recently we’ve seen a lot of meth-related cases on both sides of the county,” Bofinger said. There are currently 18 children in out of home placement in RBC.
Rio Blanco County Finance Director Janae Stanworth said the estimated expenses for the department have increased almost $100,000 in the last year alone.
Bofinger said the number of cases spiked about three years ago. “Rangely has a lot of transient stuff because of the proximity to Utah and Moffat County. There are a lot of people without community ties, family or support.”
“Rangely police are really cracking down on drug use and working with us,” said Michelle Reese, child welfare and adult protection supervisor.
“Drug and alcohol use alone does not always lead to child neglect,” Bofinger said. It’s also not the only reason human services are called in to assess a situation. The department recently helped a family find resources to make home repairs. These repairs were part of a plan to return children to the home.
“Hotline calls are really where child welfare starts for the community,” Reese said.
When human services are called in, either by a hotline referral or law enforcement, the case is evaluated to see if it meets the definition of abuse or neglect.
“Many referrals that meet the level of assessment are just assessments,” Bofinger said, adding, “Often families are provided information about resources in the community and the assessment is closed with no further intervention.” In cases where intervention is needed, “We lay out our concerns and develop a treatment plan, which becomes court-ordered, a reasonable plan to reunify the family,” Bofinger said. “Everyone gets a to-do list.”
Once the checklist is met, families can be reunited, which is the ultimate goal of the department.
“It’s really neat to see families thriving in that environment and starting to flourish,” Reese said.
“None of us have perfect families,” Bofinger said. “We’re not here to take your kids,
we want to make sure your kids’ needs are being met.”
When assessment determines children need to be removed from the home for safety reasons, Reese said they look first for “kinship care” opportunities, where the children can stay with relatives or family friends, not be uprooted from their schools and friends, and not be placed with strangers.
“We kind of have an advantage over larger counties of knowing who people are connected to,” Reese said.
When kinship care isn’t an option, children can be relocated to other counties, but resources for foster care statewide are limited.
Preventive care is the ultimate goal for the department. Identifying at-risk families, and letting families know help is available, is a big part of what they do. Unfortunately, it’s often underutilized. Rio Blanco County has a significant number of children who are eligible for help through various programs who are not accessing what’s available.
The human services department can help families figure out what programs they qualify for and help with the application process.
Helping families at higher risk “whether due to poverty, unemployment, social isolation, housing availability or the lack of local childcare resources” is a priority for the department.
“Families deserve better,” Bofinger said. It’s the goal of her department to help families find what “better” looks like for them.