State Reviews 13 Child Deaths; Finds Systematic Errors (link)
Policy Changes Planned To Protect At-Risk Children
Arthur Kane and John Ferrugia , CALL7 Investigators
DENVER -- A state review of 13 recent child deaths released Tuesday found systematic problems like social service workers not interviewing suspected child abusers, not checking backgrounds including sex offenses and not entering the information into the statewide database.Many of the findings mirror an 11-month CALL7 investigation showing flaws in Colorado’s child protection system.
The report recommends that the Colorado Department of Human Services in the next 90 days require more detailed documentation of interviews and make sure county departments do more timely documentation of findings in an abused child’s home.
In El Paso County, for example, two cases did not have the proper documentation in the state computer that allows workers to track families if they move from county to county."It is absolutely critical if we are going to prevent child abuse from occurring one county to another county to another county, that that documentation be there,” said CDHS executive director Karen Beye. “We, as a state system, need to do a much better job.”
The report recommends that the human service investigator interview the perpetrator and all witnesses. In the death of 3-month-old Luz Valdez, the suspect in the case was never interviewed, the CALL7 investigation found. Similar problems were cited in cases from around the state, like the death of a 4-year-old in Otero County last year.
“I think there should be a basic understanding of what are the core pieces that you have to do,” Beye said. “And yes, I think interviewing everyone in the family is one of those.”
In one case in Weld County, workers did not follow up on a referral that the child was in danger and another in the same area found the workers failed to investigate prior dangers in their risk assessment.
The report found that 70 percent of the 13 child deaths in 2007 that CDHS workers reviewed involved previous domestic violence and 50 percent of the families had histories of drug abuse.
Also, 46 percent involved Hispanic families, prompting Beye to say that there needs to be more emphasis on finding workers with Spanish speaking skills.
The report also recommended that county workers check national and state databases of registered sex offenders. While not linking the recommendation to a specific case, the move comes after Denver County workers failed to track a sex offender who was later named a suspect in a child's death. That fact was reported last year as part of the CALL7 investigation.
Denver workers checked the state database but not county records, which would have showed where the sex offender was living.
State officials said their recommendation to check the state and national databases are a start until they can get money to allow workers to check more complete and costly databases. However, county databases are available free of charge.
In the long term, the state will increase training for human service workers to make sure they know the right questions to ask.
“In order for the counties to adequately do their jobs, policy instruction, policy requirements must be clear, must be consistent and must be monitored,” Beye said.
Overall Beye couldn’t say which of the child deaths could have been prevented but conceded that proper procedures might have saved lives.
What say you, denizens? Is this call for social reform warranted, or not? If not, why not? If so, what should be done to fix the issues?