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Longmont, CO: Abandoned autistic teen left for weeks in hospital; no place for him

July 10, 2023, CBS Colorado News: Dad abandons son with autism at Longmont hospital and human service workers refuse to take custody
A 13-year-old boy with Autism has been forced to live at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont for three weeks after his dad abandoned him and human service workers told hospital employees it would take months to secure placement for the boy due to a lack of resources.

A hospital employee emailed state Rep. Judy Amabile of Boulder last week asking her to intervene.

The employee said Boulder County Human Service workers initially agreed to take custody of the boy and then refused saying he was safe in an emergency department.

"Boulder County DHS has not spent more than five minutes with this child since his arrival three weeks ago," the hospital employee wrote.

Amabile says state and county human service workers told her they are working on finding placement for the boy but she says it is unconscionable that he has been forced to live in a hospital for nearly a month, "I don't know whether the dad may or may not have reached out and ask for help but may not been able to get any help. Like we just... we don't know, but what we do know is that you can't just leave a 13-year-old in an ER for weeks on end with no end in sight."

She says she also reached out to both Boulder County and State Human Service workers but they would only say that they were working on it.

Both UCHealth and the Colorado Department of Human Services said they couldn't talk about the case due to health privacy protections….

Madlynn Ruble with the Colorado Department of Human Services said while the state is working to increase residential treatment, it lacks options for children with highly complex medical and behavioral health needs, due in part to a lack of providers.

"Every month there are children and youth who are either living in residential settings out of state, sleeping in county offices or hotels overnight, or staying in hospital or detention settings past when it is appropriate for them to be there," she said.

Amabile has carried legislation allocating millions of dollars to increase the availability of residential treatment. She says the state is not moving fast enough to deploy the money. "We're not responding like it's an emergency. We're responding like, well, it's a problem," she said. ...

"The house is on fire and we can talk about insulation but we've got to get these people out of the house and then we've got to put the fire out and then we got to find them another place to be and that's not what we're doing. Yes, we will pass more legislation. We will try to get more money into the system. But we have to rethink the whole thing. We are spending a huge amount of money in these various systems - mental health, child welfare - and if... we don't take a different look, if we don't try a different way, then I don't know that we're ever going to solve it."

Amabile says she hears from dozens of parents every year who are desperate for help for their kids. She says not only is the behavioral health care system not adequate, neither is the child welfare system.

While it is unclear why the boy's dad abandoned him, Amabile says, perhaps if the child welfare system had been involved sooner, he may not have done so.

An interim legislative committee is currently working on an overhaul of the child welfare system.


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