Hickenlooper proposing changes to Colorado child welfare system

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AURORA — Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration Thursday rolled out a number of initiatives that seek to address recent failures in Colorado’s child welfare system, which has seen 43 children fall through the cracks in just the last five years.

After a state review that has shown social workers to have not followed policy in the deaths of 43 children in 18 counties, Hickenlooper and Reggie Bicha, the executive director of the Dept. of Human Services, are looking to improve transparency across the system and to hold social workers and county officials more accountable.

Hickenlooper and Bicha, who oversaw similar reforms while working under former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, explained the proposals in detail at a press conference Thursday afternoon at Children’s Hospital.

“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,” Hickenlooper said. “Every decision we make in formulating and implementing this plan has the safety and well-being of children and their families at the forefront.”

The announcement comes just a few weeks after the latest child death, that of Caleb Pacheco, a three-year-old whose body was found buried beneath a trailer in Sterling where his mother used to live.

His aunt, Yolanda, told FOX31 Denver that she’d been caring for Caleb until a county social worker ordered her to give him back to his mother, Juanita Kinzie, who is now a suspect in Caleb’s murder.

“We packed him up and sent him out with her,” Yolanda recalled. “That was the last time I ever saw him.

“[The county] knew he wasn’t safe, that she wasn’t able to take care of him. But they wouldn’t help me. They wouldn’t do anything because they didn’t have an address. They didn’t know where she was.

“But they knew something wasn’t right.”

The new child welfare plan calls for a more streamlined, statewide approach based, in large part, on data, tracked by a newly developed system, to monitor children in the system and how their cases are handled.

One proposal calls for changing a state law that currently prevents county child welfare offices from sharing sensitive information about cases with other agencies.

“We recommend changing the law to provide local and state agencies the ability to share our work with the public, good and bad, while maintaining adequate privacy for families,” Bicha said.