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Greeley foster family becomes first therapeutic foster family in Weld County

Greeley Tribune - 5/27/2023

May 27—In honor of National Foster Care Month, the Colorado Department of Human Services is recognizing a Greeley foster family for going above and beyond with therapeutic care.

Over the past five years, Matthew and Yvette Berrelez of Greeley have fostered 15 children, between the ages of 9 and 15, alongside their three biological children. The couple recently became the first therapeutic foster home in Weld County.

"The kids that are in foster care, they need a place to stay," Matthew said. "Their whole world is changing, and they just need to know that there are people out there that are going to look after them."

The idea to foster originated from Yvette's work as a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, volunteers appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect. Her typical duties consisted of visiting foster homes and checking in with children to write reports and recommendations for a Weld judge.

Yvette and her husband then started discussing taking her work a step further as foster parents.

The Berrelez children were just as excited to welcome new children into their home, according to Yvette. She said their now 13-year-old son loved brothers joining the family after living with his two sisters his whole life.

Therapeutic foster care

Matthew and Yvette are taking their passion for helping children further by learning the ropes of a therapeutic foster home.

"We just have a special place in our hearts for children," Yvette said. "Especially children that sometimes are overlooked or are struggling and need that extra help in our community."

There are about 400 children and youth receiving care in a congregate care setting, such as a residential treatment center or group home, according to

A therapeutic foster home takes in children who are stepping down from these group homes or treatment facilities to provide the same level of treatment but in a family setting, Yvette said.

Therapeutic foster children typically have more high-risk behaviors and need more support than the average foster kid. Parents undergo specialized training to become a therapeutic foster home.

Yvette admits at the beginning of their foster care journey, she and Matthew faced some difficulties when caring for foster children with behavioral issues. But the couple has since learned more about children's behavior, particularly how traumatized children have different brain chemistry driving their actions.

"For some reason, we are really good with kids with a little bit more challenging behaviors," Yvette said. "They see things differently. They do things differently, and a lot of people don't really understand that. I feel like we have a really good grasp on that."

Yvette also credits the family's biological children with making a welcoming environment for children in therapeutic foster care. She said her kids act as mentors to those who walk through their family's door.

But no matter who the Berrelez parents foster, that child becomes family with their family, Yvette said. The couple prioritizes making children feel safe in their new environment as they meet their new family and learn the ways of the home, Matthew added.

Reunification is the goal

For Matthew, seeing his foster kids either go back home with their parents or get adopted makes fostering worth it. A special moment was seeing one of their 15 foster children become adopted, he said.

But there is a common misconception that foster care is about adoption when foster care is really about reunification, or reunifying children with their families, according to Adrienne Baxter, a worker for the Colorado Department of Human Services' Office of Children, Youth and Families.

"They've gone above and beyond to support reunification because that's always the goal of foster care," Baxter said about the Berrelez family.

Involving or working closely with the biological families of the children in foster care is a necessary course the Berrelez family takes as foster parents to help bring children home with less disruption.

Yvette says she tries to involve the kids' parents as much as possible, whether that's seeing if the parents can attend their child's school event or sports game, or sending school pictures to the parents. She also tries to keep in touch with each parent to keep them updated or ask for advice when needed.

"I let them know from the beginning, 'I'm not there to take your kids,'" Yvette said. "I'm just going to take care of them until you're ready."

It takes a village to raise kids, Yvette said. Some parents and guardians just need extra help and support. The Berralez family finds it rewarding to step in and offer that support for people to keep the community healthy and safe.

"Our kids are our future, so we need to take care of them the best that we can," Yvette said. "People can really change the path of these children just by taking them in and by loving them and providing a safe home for them."

Who qualifies for fostering?

For those interested in fostering, Colorado is committed to inclusion. There are no restrictions on who is allowed to foster based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or marital status, according to Baxter.

A person can be single, married or have a domestic partner to be eligible for fostering, Baxter said.

As long as a child has a room, a person can own or rent a home, condo or apartment of any size. Foster parents can also work from inside or outside the home, and can still be eligible if both partners work outside the home.

To qualify for fostering, a person must:

* Be 21 or older;

* Pass child abuse and criminal background checks required by state and federal laws;

* Have sufficient income to support a family;

* Be able to physically care for a child or youth;

* Be able to work with a treatment team and be willing to go to ongoing training.


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