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Foster care called lacking in Vail Valley

Chris Outcalt
coutcalt@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Foster care both changed and saved Vail Valley resident Aidan Fleming’s life. His eyes get watery just thinking about it.

Fleming ” who moved to Eagle County in 2002 and is in his late 30s ” was 14-years-old and living in Illinois when his parents died within 11 months of each other. The rest of his immediate family lived over seas. He and his six siblings needed a place to stay and were placed in foster homes.

“Utter chaos” was how Fleming described the situation at the first home he was placed in.



“You never knew which end was up,” Fleming said. “It was hell.”

But it got better.



After a year, he moved in with a different family in the same town and they clicked.

“The big difference was they were committed not to take the place of my parents but to be a role model ” I was pretty resistant at that point to ever having parents again,” Fleming said. “He said ‘I’ll never be your father, but I’d like to be a father figure,’ that made all the difference.”

While most children in need of foster care rarely stay with a family as long as Fleming did, county foster care recruiter John Fay wants to make sure they have the same opportunities in Eagle County Fleming did in Illinois.



Fay thinks most people either don’t know or don’t think there’s a shortage of foster care in the county. There is, he says.

Foster care is the temporary placement by authorities of a child 18 or younger outside of their home often because of abuse or neglect.

“I think people would assume that it’s taken care of but the reality of it is that it’s not OK,” said Fay. “It’s basically non-existent.”

The county has one certified foster parent. Ten or 12 would be ideal, he said. Nearby Mesa County, which is a little more than double the size of Eagle County, has around 300 foster homes, according to Fay.

“I think the county has dropped the ball for a number of years, but these commissioners have said this is a priority,” Fay said. “I don’t think people know the need because it hasn’t been put out there.”

Since 2002, the county has received about 350 reported cases of abuse or neglect per year. Of those 350 cases, about 50 or 60 aren’t accepted. Most of the rest are resolved without removing a kid from their home. But between 15 and 20 kids a year need to be placed in a foster home and because there aren’t enough foster parents in the county, they’re often sent to other parts of the state.

Fay recently worked on a case where a child was placed in a home Kit Carson, a town closer to Kansas than Eagle County. That distance, Fay said, can strain the county’s services and hurt the chances of getting the child back into their original home.

“We want these stays to be as short as possible ” it’s easier when the kids are in the county,” Fay said. “We can set up family therapy right here, we can set up supervision right here, which saves time and money and gets the kid back in their home where they need to be.”

In Fay’s mind, quality foster care is as important to a community as its school system or fire department. But there have been times when the county would have liked to place a child in a foster home, but didn’t because the only spot was hundreds of miles away.

“If we had more options we would err on the side of caution and it would ultimately help the family and help the kid be safe,” Fay said.

And a lot of the time a kid may only need a place to stay for a week ” foster care is meant to be temporary solution, Fay said.

“When we take a kid out of a home, 90 percent of the time it’s not to punish the family,” Fay said. “In the majority of cases we immediately look at reunification.”

Suzanne Vitale, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, had half a dozen foster kids stay with her and her parents when she was growing up in California and said parents shouldn’t worry about the impact it might have on their biological children.

“I can say it was wonderful,” Vitale said. “It showed me how to give back.”

The county is also trying to make more support available to people who decide to become foster parents and is holding a series of informational meetings during the next four months.

“My goal is to make sure that foster care doesn’t take a back seat anymore,” Fay said.

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or coutcalt@vaildaily.com.

Eagle County officials are holding a series of informational meetings for people interested in becoming a foster parent or helping with foster care in the county. The process to become a foster parent includes some training, a background check and being certified in CPR. The first meeting is 6 p.m., Wednesday at the Eagle County Building in Eagle. There are three other 6 p.m. meetings scheduled. Dinner is provided at each meeting and RSVP is required. To RSVP contact John Fay at 970-328-8840 or e-mail him at john.fay@eaglecounty.us.

– Thursday, April 23 at the Miller Ranch daycare center in Edwards

– Wednesday, May 20 at the Eagle County Building in El Jebel

– Wednesday, June 10 at the Eagle County building in Eagle


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