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Colorado announces sweeping reforms to child welfare system

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Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday revealed sweeping reforms to the state’s child welfare system, including a multipart plan that will create a statewide hotline for reporting child abuse and neglect, new training on how to assess those reports, and a study of workloads and caseloads of child protection workers.

The plan also will steer resources to troubled families before actual abuse and neglect occur by delivering services through nurses, parenting classes and additional resources.

“We want to make sure that we keep kids healthy and safe and that we stabilize families because we know that stable families are the best launching pads there are for kids to have successful lives,” Hickenlooper said at a news conference inside the state Capitol.

Hickenlooper will ask the legislature to dedicate $20 million to the reforms for the next fiscal year, nearly a third of which will come from recent reductions in the number of children incarcerated by the juvenile system. Much of the rest will come from increased tax revenues due to an improved economic climate, officials said.

The state projects that an additional $8 million annually will be available over the next five years because of a waiver from the federal government that allows the state more flexibility in how it spends child protection money.

“We want to ensure that every child in the state has well-trained, well-prepared caseworkers and supervisors with the right tools to ensure their safety,” said Reggie Bicha, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

Call for answers

The reforms follow an eight-day series published by The Denver Post in cooperation with 9News in November. The series found that 72 of the 175 children who have died of abuse and neglect in Colorado in the past six years had families or caregivers known to child protection workers. Since the launch of the series, an additional 17 children died of abuse or neglect in Colorado. Two of them were known to child protection workers.

The Post found that child protection workers did not follow state policy and regulations more than half the time when they tried to protect children who eventually died. Following the series, both the public and lawmakers demanded explanations for those children’s deaths and improvements in how a child’s case is handled.

State Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, who is one of several lawmakers working with the Department of Human Services and counties to draft legislation, read the stories of more than 50 of the children included in the series, she said.

“We’re all sad and appalled by this information,” she said. “We may not be able to prevent every child death by abuse, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

Hickenlooper announced a five-point improvement plan almost a year ago. On Wednesday, Hickenlooper, joined by Bicha and state lawmakers, announced a new wave of reforms for child welfare.

“I think we have been making progress with our most vulnerable children,” Hickenlooper said. “We recognize this isn’t just government’s job. It is a goal of healthy families and healthy communities.”

Bicha explained that the additional improvements will be focused on the “front end” of the child welfare system and will target prevention efforts, how child abuse and neglect are reported, and how those reports are assessed.

“Children should not have to experience abuse and neglect before we provide them and their families the services they need,” Bicha said. “That’s why we are investing in services that will assist families before they become a part of the child welfare system.”

A public awareness campaign will launch in addition to the hotline, which will provide one number for people to call if they have a concern or report of child abuse.

Help for caseworkers

The state will offer new training programs for hotline and child protection workers to ensure that reports contain all necessary information and are shared and assessed properly, Bicha said.

New training programs will help hotline workers and child protection workers properly assess reports of child abuse in making decisions about their care and create more consistent practices across county departments.

In the past, protocols for when to launch an investigation were made on a county-by-county basis, allowing for wide variations. The reforms call for consistent criteria to be given to the people making those decisions.

The plan also includes measures to finance purchasing new smartphones and computer tablets so child protection workers can finish reports while they are outside the office — when, for example, they are waiting to make a court appearance.

The Post investigation also revealed that the state lacked the ability to track caseworkers’ workloads.

A group of lawmakers expects to deliver a letter to the state auditor as early as next week, requesting a study of the workloads and caseloads carried by child protection workers, Nicholson said. The reform initiative will make available money for the state auditor to contract with an outside consultant to conduct the caseload and workload study, Bicha said. Such studies have been recommended numerous times in the past by child advocates. In the past, state officials have opted not to pay for one.

Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, president of Colorado Counties Inc., a lobbying group for county officials, and Donna Rohde, director of Otero County’s Department of Human Services and the president of the Colorado Human Services Directors Association, gave a joint interview with Bicha after Wednesday’s news conference.

“You bet it makes a difference in terms of productivity,” Davidson said of the plans for providing smartphones and computer tablets to caseworkers. He also praised plans for additional resources for county officials to offer services to families before abuse occurs.

The plan also includes training for “mandatory reporters,” such as doctors or school teachers, who are required by law to report suspected abuse and neglect. The new training will better explain what happens when a report is made and what factors are considered when deciding whether to remove a child from the home.

The state will also work to improve on transparency by building a website where the public can see how county child welfare departments are faring at protecting children.

In addition, the state also will make available more money for core service programming, which delivers services aimed at allowing families to remain intact and preventing a child from getting placed into foster care.


The Denver Post investigation revealed the state lacked the ability to track workloads, how many caseworkers were on staff and whether they were disciplined for policy violations. The state plans to hire a consultant to study the workloads and caseloads within the department.


A statewide, toll-free hotline will be set up to take reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. The state will launch new training programs for hotline and child protection workers to ensure that reports contain all necessary information and are shared and assessed properly.


$20 million in state funds this year and $8 million in federal money each of the next five years will go to improve child abuse prevention programs and training. The federal funding comes through a waiver in how Colorado uses money that had been tied to spending on foster care.


Smartphone and tablet technology will be utilized so caseworkers can do paperwork remotely, between visiting homes of children. Caseworkers say they work 60-hour weeks and spend additional hours at home at night filling out paperwork in the state computer system.


The state will make available more money for services aimed at allowing families to remain intact. Other prevention money will deliver services through nurses, parenting classes and other resources — with the goal of reducing child abuse by 50 percent in seven years.

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  • comment avatar Kathryn February 7, 2013

    ARTICLE QUOTE: “In addition, the department expects annually to receive an additional $8 million by receiving a waiver for how it spends money that had been tied to spending on foster care.” [END QUOTE]

    Would someone please restate the above for me? I read it three times, but I’m not sure that I understand it. I take it to mean that instead of allocating the $8 million for foster care, that money can now be spent in other ways. Is that right? If so, I am not sure that would be a good idea.

    However, I am in favor of anything that would improve the appalling record that Colorado (and other states, also!) has had in child abuse/neglect and the deaths resulting from such abuse/neglect!

    • comment avatar Katie February 7, 2013

      Just wanted to say thank you to Mile High Mamas for including this guest blog this morning. So touched that people care.

      I can explain the “additional $8 million annually over the next five years because of a waiver from the federal government that allows the state more flexibility in how it spends child protection money.”

      The money that pays for foster care is authorized, under title IV-E of the Social Security Act,and an entitlement which means that as caseload grows the amount of money a state receives has to grow as well.

      But, if states do a good job of serving abused and neglected children in their home or finding relatives to care for children to strategies to avoid removing a child and placing them with a foster family, the state has less money to fund programs that several abused and neglected children.

      Several states have over the last several years asked for a waiver of IV-E funding eligibility requirements that are tied to caseload and instead tie that funding to positive outcomes for children.

      Colorado was selected for one of these waivers so we can now implement reforms like the ones that were announced yesterday. Its a really good thing, and at the same time I am so glad that people are willing to speak out and protect funding for foster care.

      Thank you for caring about our kids.

  • comment avatar John D February 7, 2013

    I think the “tried” needs to be changed to “failed”. I doubt there was much trying in most of those cases.

  • comment avatar Lucky February 7, 2013

    The problem is not only with the protective agencies involved but also with the courts and judicial system that allows the predators back on the streets! I work directly with abused children in and out of the system and can tell you from first hand experiences that these violent sexual predators are getting slapped on the wrist because all to many times they cut plea deals that allow them back on the streets. I see sexually abused children who are forced to testify and cross examined for hours about the abuse or they will not testify at all because they are too young or too scared. The perp cuts a deal to felony child abuse ( no sexual predator charge so no registering as a sex offender) then get 90 days in jail and a 8-10 year suspended sentence and an ISP (intense supervised probation=joke). Back on the streets in 90 days to abuse as many kids as they can. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are abused at some point of their life. Your average pedophile can abuse as many as 400 children in their lifetime. The blame can not solely be put on CPS or the Courts! Its a epidemic some choose to sweep under the rug. If your not doing something about it the blame is yours as well! If you suspect abuse please call 1-800-4-A- CHILD.

    If you have an abused child that is living in fear please call us!
    Bikers Against Child Abuse
    1(800)230-4852 ext103

    Rocky Mountain Chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse ( B.A.C.A.)

  • comment avatar Dave February 7, 2013

    Reforming this failed mess can only help. Reforming it, not trying to reform it with the usual bureaucratic infighting, but actually reforming it.

  • comment avatar Jada February 7, 2013

    Reform and change are certainly needed when 72 kids die and it takes outside people to alert the state officials as to what is happening! There was failure in the system and unless some people get fired over this, there is no change, just a new system of reports.
    Until the voters see a few firings of incompetent people in this department, those kids died in vain!. What a travesty.

  • comment avatar Jake February 7, 2013

    If the Hickster were actually serious about “sweeping reforms”, the first thing he would do is convene a personnel review board to solely look for incompetence, ineptitude, unqualified, unable, and in-efficient case workers that seem to be prevalent in this department, and when found terminate immediately. After the pathetically dismal results of this departments inability to stop our innocent children from abuse and dying is appalling, and heads should have rolled a long time ago!

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