43 Child Deaths Due Policy Violations In Colorado Social Services
As a CASA guardian ad-litem with many years in child protection I’ve met many terribly abused children that have fallen through the cracks of overwhelmed child protection workers (and they never make the papers).
In my world, 99% of the abused and neglected children go unnoticed except to the overworked & under-resourced social workers and under- appreciated adoptive/foster parents.
Part of the problem is that since newspapers have been in decline, the old beat reporters just don’t exist anymore (at least in my community) & the topic is painful.
To appreciate the meanness of some states I point to (Mitch Daniels) Indiana’s stealing (redirecting) the funding promised to parents that adopted abandoned special needs children (after these children had been adopted) & Minnesota’s fiscally irresponsible de-funding of subsidized daycare which forced the county to place children in foster homes because their father’s job did not pay enough to afford daycare.
It costs way more to place children in foster care than it would have to subsidize his daycare payments.
It cost Hennepin County millions of dollars to pay for the care of the four year old boy the court thought would be better off with his father even though dad had a court order to stay away from young boys because of what he did to them. My client is now is now 23, has AIDS, and has been in over 30 foster homes and he will be a ward of the state until he dies. He was been tied to a bed, starved, beaten, sexually abused and left alone for days at a time from 4 to 7 years of age. That never made the paper. Nor did the four year old girl who I visited in the suicide ward of Fairview hospital (her sister’s story was much worse).
If you read Jordan’s reporting, it will be easy to hate the social workers involved. Please remember that under-training & under-funding combined with giant case loads, makes their task impossible.
Like blaming teachers for failed schools or cops for full prisons, it’s the wrong place to focus.
We did this; our state legislators, governors, and the mean spirited political hate fest that rallies around fear and war at the direct cost to American children.
When a baby is found in a dumpster, the mother has horrible mental health issues & needs help, but our communities have accepted that we just don’t support young mom’s or their troubled children.
It’s all wrong and we know it. It is up to us to talk about these issues and bother our media and legislators until positive change happens.
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Policy violations in Colorado social-services system found amid deaths of 43 children
UPDATED: 01/29/2012 01:57:06 PM MST
By Jordan Steffen
The Denver Post
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.
In 40 percent of those deaths — 17 children — county social workers failed to start or did not accept an assessment after a referral warranted an
PHOTOS: CALEB PACHECO MEMORIAL
investigation for 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:
There were 27 instances in which county social workers failed to contact, interview or follow up with victims, caregivers, reporting parties or other adults involved in an referral.
- There were 32 instances in which social workers did not document unsafe conditions, prior incidents or other concerns in their assessments.
- There were 33 occasions during which assessments were not started in a timely manner, were completed incorrectly or left open beyond the allotted time frame.
- In five cases, social workers failed to account for other children or caregivers living in the home, and communication difficulties across county departments and other systems — such as law enforcement — hindered an investigation in five cases.
- 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.
Jordan Steffen: 303-954-1794 firstname.lastname@example.org