Denver-based company helps families of autistic children navigate the healthcare system to secure essential services.
Consultants for Children
Location: Lakewood, CO
Industry: Family Services
ICIC Program: Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Inner City Capital Connections
Working as a licensed counselor right out of college, Germaine Suefert quickly saw a dire need for better case management for children with autism and developmental disabilities.
From poor or non-existent school-based services to bureaucratic red tape to finding support for parents to counseling and physical therapy for kids, the families she saw needed someone to skillfully lead them through the overwhelming labyrinth that is the health care system. Driven by a lack of assistance for families in desperate need of services, she launched Consultants for Children in Denver in 2002, at first working out of her car primarily.
“Families have no clue how to navigate these different systems,” she says. “I became almost a case manager versus a clinician. I decided to go ahead and create a company to get other like-minded people to help these families, as well as provide the clinical services these families need.”
Her instincts were correct as her Denver office grew fast and she was inundated with an avalanche of demand for services. The company now has 110 employees working out of nine offices, including the largest and most recent location in Yuma, Colorado. Her ranks increase to 175 employees in the summer as the company offers innovative camps and programs for kids across Colorado.
As the company has grown, Germaine had to pivot from being a clinician and case manager to a CEO managing a large and diverse staff. She also had to learn how to work with healthcare companies to help families obtain coverage for the important services their children need.
I learned trial by fire,” she said. “Learning how to network and work with health insurance companies and make contacts and build relationships is not easy. It’s why we have very few competitors because it’s so difficult. But once you get past that point of finding the right person to talk to and the right tools to use and the right forms to submit to the right portals, it becomes so much smoother. And it helps one family and then you help more families behind them.”
ICIC’s networking helped the company grow
Germaine received a masters degree in counseling psychology and counselor education from the University of Colorado Denver. She says she received her business education through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses and ICIC’s Inner City Capital Connections programs. Through ICIC, she attended classes at Babson University in Massachusetts and was connected to small business lenders who helped her create a pathway toward growth and sustainability.
Highlights of her ICIC experiences include: “Gaining education from other people who have already gone through and learned these processes, and getting the tools and solutions,” and “being able to meet with professors from huge universities I never would have been able to talk to.”
She also learned valuable pitching skills that helped prepare her for meetings with potential financiers and investors.
“I learned my pitch needed significant improvement and I received very valuable feedback,” she says. “I put together a power point and explained my goals. It was like Shark Tank, except 1-on-1. I got to talk to people who actually finance companies.”
Consultants for Children is one of many businesses that unexpectedly grew rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and school closures only exacerbated mental health crises across the country as families became isolated and cut off from services. The impact she saw on families was staggering as kids were disconnected from services and families went into crisis. Her caseloads doubled as more and more families needed more and more support.
As a result, she expanded her staff and coverage areas to meet the rising demand, especially in rural areas of Colorado.
“I am so glad that we are feeling normal and kids are back in school. Seeing families have more stability and resiliency because of the pandemic is a silver lining,” she says. “But some kids have fallen off a deep end and it is continuing to create increased needs for mental health and behavioral health. There are some really sad stories out there that are worse because of the shutdowns. Mental health is one of the biggest side effects, so sadly, we continue to grow.”
Closing gaps in services and meeting the need
The harsh reality of gaps in services for autistic and developmentally disabled children, especially in smaller communities, is frustrating but Germaine is proud that she and her employees are able to advocate for families. The company provides comprehensive and customized treatment plans as well as a variety of support services, including job and life skills training for older children, social clubs, counseling, art therapy, virtual programs, connections to wraparound services, and more.
Networking with other businesses – including with competitors – is essential to Germaine’s success in such a challenging field. Sharing contacts, making referrals, and working with competitors to find solutions for families is vital to helping close treatment gaps for kids most in need.
“We are all fighting a really important fight,” she says. “If we work together, we become a bigger force. A lot of small businesses feel the obligation to be competitors. But there’s some power in numbers.”
Photo credits: Photos courtesy of Consultants for Children.