Leadership Interview: Thad Paul, MPA, Larimer County Children, Youth and Families Division Manager

Thad Paul has spent 22 years serving children and their families in Larimer County, starting as a caseworker and moving up through the ranks to his current role as division manager. In his management roles, Paul has assisted in developing various programs, many of which have been targeted at reducing the number of youth placed in residential care settings, and building collaborations with community partners to serve the families in his communityHe also serves on the Larimer County Interagency Oversight Group.

The Ascent: You've been working on behalf of children and their families for more than two decades. What are the major changes you've seen in the past five years?

Paul: The stressors change periodically, but what I see is almost an increased sense of isolation for some of the families we serve.  It seems that with social media we should be more connected, but we’re seeing a loss of the kind of real-life support that’s immediately responsive to needs. The life stressors build up and they don’t have the connections to people to support them through the struggles, which in turn adds to the stressors.

An additional stress is the disparity between income and what it costs to live here. The separation just seems to keep growing, and adds to that sense of isolation and not really being able to get by on their own.

We’ve been providing services in the community, and in the home if it’s possible, because families need hands-on mentoring and life coaching. We have over 100 contracts with people to provide specialty services because it’s our philosophy that no single agency can keep kids safe and improve family well-being. Our agency is in no way the only solution to helping families be healthy and well. That philosophy pushes us to engage community partners to help us fill gaps.

The Ascent: How are you making connections between access to health care and social services for families in Larimer County? Can you speak to the work of the Collaborative Management program in that context?

Paul: We’ve been working collaboratively in Larimer County for a long time, but the state’s Collaborative Management program incentivizes the work and creates a structure for families and leaders in the community to talk through the struggles through different lenses. We want to build strong, sustainable solutions for families and kids in the community, but we also don’t want to do harm to other agencies that are working to do the same thing. The kids and their families here belong to all of us. That’s the philosophy of our community.

We’re meeting monthly with more than 20 board members, appointed by our county commissioners. In the room with the collaborative, we have directors of mental health and public health, so we’re having those conversations to identify needs, talk through concerns and challenges—and that grows programs.

For example, the Family Assessment and Planning Team meets for a full day every week with families and kids at high risk of going into residential placements, to connect them to community resources and, hopefully, remove barriers that may be getting in the way of that family being successful. You get mid-level managers from different systems together to eliminate some of the frustration. Sometimes one agency can’t do what we want to do, but when everyone works together, we can develop an understanding of how to address issues that one system can’t do by itself.

As another part of the program, we have a couple of nurses through the Department of Health and Environment who can go out with social workers when we get calls to do a physical assessment of the children. That helps us to bridge physical health with child welfare and behavioral concerns, and provides a more well-rounded picture of health for the kids.

The Ascent: What's next? What needs to happen to further advance social health and well-being?

Paul: We need to do better at sharing information and figure out what’s working for families across systems, instead of staying isolated in silos. One challenge is that we don’t talk from a data perspective. It would be nice to know that what we’re doing for child welfare families is making things better for that family from a health perspective. Is there something we can do better to serve them and prevent them from going into higher levels of care? Because ultimately, the best outcome for the child and family is the best outcome for us all.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study has been out there for decades, but there seems to still be a disconnect on how past trauma can affect physical and behavioral health. We want to work from that perspective: How do we help prevent kids from coming into our system? If we do this better, the kids we’re serving today won’t become the parents we work with in the future. Kids that are successful now avoid the generational issues we often see.

With the shift to the RAE there’s a lot of opportunity to have behavioral health and physical health addressed under one umbrella. We’re just on the edge of the opportunity those relationships may bring. Targeted interventions could maximize the impact across all the systems instead of just in those silos. We really need to get upstream and have a better understanding of the needs and gaps in the community, so investment in the family can be made before someone has to call the child welfare hotline. At that point, we’ve lost an opportunity.