Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kids Dying in State Care - Judges not named.

All these reports - but not One judge identified. Why?

Report finds holes in city's child-protection safety net

Judging kids' risk is an 'ongoing problem,' it says

By Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Chandler Grafner, 7, died from starvation.

An outside review has criticized Denver's child protection agency for a long list of management problems, including failure to check for abuse by non-family members such as boyfriends.

The outside review was requested by the Denver Department of Human Services after a 7-year-old boy was starved to death and a young girl was subjected to sexual abuse and then died. In both cases, social workers had been warned of the danger to the children.

A separate review of a dozen such cases statewide is expected by early April.

"It is clear that risk and safety assessment continues to be an ongoing problem, both within Denver County and in the state," the Denver review warned.

The review found that Denver social workers often do not interview unrelated adults in abuse cases, even though they often turn out to be the source of the threat to the child.

The report also blames a checklist, created by the state to help caseworkers decide when a child is in danger. Instead of helping, the report says, the checklist has caused caseworkers to focus only on impending danger and not other issues, such as chronic neglect caused by a caregiver's substance abuse.

Improper use of the checklist "has caused workers to minimize risk factors that jeopardize safety of children still living in the home," the report said.

State officials said they would consider the criticism before responding.

Denver already has added to the checklist, ordering interviews of all caretakers and all adults in a home, checks on their backgrounds, and checks for previous child-welfare reports on the family from another county.

The review was sharply critical of management at Denver DHS while praising its intention and reforms aimed at keeping children safe in their family homes. Denver's re-abuse rate - when a child suffers a second incident of abuse after coming into social services care - is 2.7 percent, less than half the national standard.

But families told the reviewers their caseworkers were uncaring and hostile, while caseworkers said they were working in a punitive environment and powerless to help children and families. Social workers and judges cited each other as obstacles to good care for the children.

White blamed low morale on the recent child deaths, inquiries and personal blame. "It's really hard to lose children who've sat on their laps," she said.

Officials said families often don't get the help they need, including mental health or substance abuse treatment, even when they ask for it.

Denver DHS director Roxane White said all the recommendations would be accepted. She will find the money to add 25 caseworkers on top of the 40 approved earlier this month.

Six more legal staff will be hired to help caseworkers prepare for court and to comply with court orders, White said.

Total cost of addressing the issues was estimated at $1.75 million.

She said one conflict occurred because judges insisted on sending children to facilities that Human Services found to be doing poorly with the children they already had. She said the court now has "some really great new judges."

But even then, White said, "We will never be able to fill all of the gaps in child welfare. Human services isn't our top priority as a country."

White is leaving her job soon to take over a new Denver- based human services foundation.