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Hickenlooper Announces Colorado Child-Welfare System Overhaul

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on Thu, 04/19/2012 - 12:18
Fight Child Protection Department Corruption: 
Hickenlooper Announces Colorado Child-Welfare System Overhaul

On Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced several changes to improve Colorado's child welfare system after the tragic deaths of 43 children that were involved in the system during the last five years.

Fox31 reports that a state review showed that some caseworkers did not follow policy in the cases surrounding the 43 children that died. So, in an effort to improve the system, Hickenlooper, along with the executive director of the Dept. of Human Services, Reggie Bicha, are looking for increased transparency as well as to hold caseworkers and county officials more accountable.

In a statement made on the Colorado Dept. of Human Services website, Bicha says on the proposed overhaul, “We have engaged the community and the stakeholders throughout this entire process to create a more efficient design for the way services are delivered in Colorado. Every decision we make in implementing this plan has the safety and well-being of children and their families at the forefront.”

The plan has five key strategies to meet the new goals of accountability and transparency, according to The Denver Post:

  1. Create a common approach for all counties.
  2. Use data to drive decisions and improve outcomes.
  3. Improve staff training.
  4. Take steps to align funding with child-welfare needs.
  5. Seek legislation so more information about cases can be made public.

Over the last five years Colorado's Dept. of Human Services has been under fire for a number of high profile deaths of children involved in the system.

Just in January of 2012, 3-year-old Caleb Pacheco was found dead under a trailer home. Caleb's mother Juanita Kinzie had abandoned him more than a year ago, so Caleb went to live with his aunt Yolanda Kinzie-Graber. However, in January of 2011, Kinzie wanted her son back and despite Kinzie's history of drug and alcohol abuse, Logan County Social Services told Caleb's aunt Yolanda that she had to give the child back to his mother. That day in January when Kinzie took Caleb was the last day the family ever saw the young boy alive.

One of the most egregious examples occurred in 2007 when 7-year-old Chandler Grafner was sealed in a closet by his foster parents, denied food and water and left to wallow in his own urine and feces until he died. In 2011, a federal judge in Denver allowed a wrongful-death lawsuit to move forward against two social-service workers who allegedly were told repeatedly about the abuse, but did nothing about it.


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Attorneys argued Wednesday that two Denver County child-protection workers were not legally responsible for 7-year-old Chandler Grafner's care after he was placed in the home where he would eventually starve to death.

The two, Margaret Booker and Mary Peagler, face a wrongful-death lawsuit in the boy's May 2007 death, filed by Chandler's estate and his biological parents. They are appealing a U.S. District judge's December ruling that while county human-services departments enjoy immunity, the lawsuit against the two women can proceed. Both are still employed by the Denver Department of Human Services.

In Wednesday's hearing before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Robert Wolf, an attorney for Booker and Peag-ler, said Denver child-welfare services was not legally responsible for Chandler's care because the man Chandler was living with — Jon Phillips, who is serving a life sentence for the boy's death — was not a certified foster parent.

Wolf also argued that the Jefferson County Department of Human Services was legally responsible for supervising Chandler's ongoing case because that agency placed him with Phillips and his girlfriend, Sarah Barry, after he was removed from his mother's care.

The family moved to Denver shortly after Chandler was placed with them.

Denver child-protection workers had Chandler temporarily removed from the home in January 2007, when a teacher reported the boy's ear was red and he had marks on his forehead. He was returned to Phillips shortly after with instructions for Phillips to no longer use physical discipline.

The boy died that May of starvation and dehydration. He was 20 pounds underweight and had been living locked in a closet.

In his earlier ruling allowing the suit to proceed against the caseworkers, U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez said their failure to protect the boy "shocked the conscience" and abused the child's civil rights.

But Wolf argued it was uncertain if Booker and Peagler had access to all of Chandler's prior interactions with child-welfare services. He compared their decision to temporarily remove him from the home to "taking that child out for an ice cream cone."

At the time of Chandler's death, Peagler was in charge of individual cases and Booker was responsible for investigating claims related to maltreatment and deciding whether further investigation was warranted.

Kyle Bachus, who represents Chandler's estate and biological parents, said Booker and Peagler had access to all of Chandler's history in the child- welfare system and the case had transferred into Denver's jurisdiction. Bachus argued that Booker and Peagler, as department employees, were responsible for supervising Chandler's case and that their failure to execute professional judgment prevents them from falling under immunity protections.