Steamboat Springs Cynthia Meeks watches as her foster child, Jason, runs around her home laughing and playing.
Meeks considers it a blessing that she was given the opportunity to see Jason grow from an underweight 1-year-old to a thriving and rambunctious toddler a year later.
Jason was removed from the home of his biological parent and placed with Meeks, a licensed foster parent. Although Meeks is uncertain of where Jason's long-term home will be, she said the main goal in foster care is to reunite the children with their biological parents.
Jason currently receives visits from his biological mother through a reunification program that provides biological parents with counseling along with a visitation plan.
Meeks said working with the biological parent can sometimes be difficult, but she tries to focus on what is best for Jason.
"When I get to rock him to sleep or spend the evening playing with him," she said, "I know it's all worth it."
When Jason was placed in her home, he cried and screamed often. Meeks said she felt he was simply crying for attention.
While Jason still exhibits such behavior, he has improved, Meeks said.
The challenges Meeks faces with Jason are similar to those faced by other foster parents. Such challenges are magnified for foster parents trying to help adolescents.
"It's hard to take care of children that you did not raise," said Pat Chase, a Routt County Social Services caseworker who licenses foster parents. The difficulties in raising older children accounts for the lack of foster parents willing to take children ages 9 through 16, Chase said.
Currently there are only 10 licensed foster parents in Routt County.
Rhonda Wirth, a licensed foster parent, had a teen-age girl live in her home for almost six months.
"It's not what you think it's going to be," Wirth said. "There is this idealism of helping children, but in practice it's hard to do; it's hard knowing how to help when a lot of the circumstances foster kids have dealt with are things unheard of in our community."
She said it was an eye-opening experience for her children to see what it's like not to be cared for.
Wirth prepared for keeping her foster child by attending classes covering a variety of issues and situations foster parents might face. The classes are required of all licensed foster parents.
The Department of Human Services implements the foster care program and licensing, and provides networking for foster parents and is available at all times if foster parents need help