Policy violations in Colorado social-services system found amid deaths of 43 children
posted by: Mile High Mamas
In the past five years, 43 Colorado children died from abuse or neglect after entering the child welfare program. Every one of those deaths was marked by a policy violation or sparked concern in the way the case was handled by county social workers.
Investigations completed by the Colorado Department of Human Services since 2007 indicate that social workers in 18 counties repeatedly failed to complete basic functions — such as interviews or follow-ups on assessments — in 43 cases where a child later died from abuse or neglect.
The state department opens an investigation whenever a child’s death is a result of abuse or neglect and there was contact with the county child welfare system during the two years before the child’s death, said spokeswoman Liz McDonough.
Before 2011, an investigation was opened if a child entered the system five years before the death.
Human Services’ latest investigation will be into the death of 3-year-old Caleb Pacheco, whose body was found tucked underneath a Sterling mobile home last week. His mother, Juanita Kinzie, 24, is in custody and faces one count of first-degree murder in her son’s death.
In 2011, 21 child-fatality reports were launched in Colorado. Two have been completed. Reports become public after they are finished and if they show policy violations or concerns. The Denver Post obtained all 43 public reports completed in the past five years.
Most of the reports included multiple referrals and assessments.
According to The Post’s findings:
One of the reports was on 7-year-old Chandler Grafner, who was starved by his foster parents, Jon Phillips and Sarah Berry, in 2007.
In December, a federal judge ruled that the Denver social workers who were involved with his case were not immune from a lawsuit filed by the boy’s relatives. Phillips was sentenced to life in Chandler’s death and Berry to 48 years.
Caleb’s family members say they last saw the boy in January 2011. During the year he was missing, the boy’s family said they called social services in three counties more than 70 times.
Human Services cannot release details about Caleb’s case or confirm whether his family contacted county departments because the investigation into the boy’s death is ongoing, and a Logan County judge issued a gag order in the case, McDonough said.
Dr. Kim Bundy-Fazioli, an associate professor at Colorado State University’s School of Social Work, said the family’s claims about unanswered calls for help are a concern.
“When families aren’t making progress, there is a lot of chaos, and it can be overwhelming for case workers and service providers,” Bundy-Fazioli said.
“You never know who to interview or who to trust, but it’s not an excuse not to intervene.”
Bundy-Fazioli also was concerned about decreased funding for county programs and increased caseloads for overwhelmed social workers, who often have to make judgment calls on high-priority cases and investigations.
Each of Colorado’s 64 county departments are being asked to do more with less, said Becky Miller Updike, ombudsman with the Office of Colorado’s Child Protection. Often, families in the most dire situations are also more transient, making it harder to track children through school systems and other county departments.
“We have to cut back dollars from our counties every year, causing us to ask them to do more with less,” Miller Updike said.