DENVER -- Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday announced that the state will launch a new telephone hotline to report child abuse as part of a new effort to improve the state's troubled child welfare system.
Currently, Colorado's 64 counties run their own hotlines for reporting abuse.
The effort to streamline the reporting of such cases across the state is part of an ongoing effort to address child protection deficiencies that Hickenlooper started a year ago.
"We've been trying to make our system more preventative, to prevent abuse before it happens," Hickenlooper said. "And we've been making strides."
The $22 million plan will also provide for prevention services for referrals that don't meet the criteria to open a case but for which the family still needs additional supports so they remain stable and reduce the chance for abuse and neglect.
Hickenlooper is also planning to enhance collaboration with a program called the Nurse Family Partnership, which provides nurses in the home for at-risk pregnant women and new moms.
"We are investing in programs and services that will prevent at-risk families from ever entering the child welfare system," said Colorado Department of Human Services Director Reggie Bicha.
The plan also increases funding for counties that have overspent their initial allocations and to standardize screening practices and referrals.
Republican lawmakers never invited to press conference
Lawmakers expressed hope that there will be bipartisan support for the proposals; but of the 13 lawmakers who attended Wednesday morning's press conference, none were Republicans.
Following the press conference, Hickenlooper told FOX31 Denver that he wasn't sure why no Republicans attended and that he believed they were invited as recently as Wednesday morning.
Later Wednesday, House Minority Leader Mark Waller told FOX31 Denver that Hickenlooper, realizing that an invitation to the press conference never reached Republican lawmakers, called him to apologize for the miscommunication.
"The governor wasn't trying to throw us under the bus, he just didn't know we hadn't been invited," Waller said. "We just don't want anyone to think that we don't care about child protection because we weren't there. We just didn't know about it; and we appreciate the governor calling today."
Waller did acknowledge that governor's office sent representatives from the Dept. of Human Services to his office on Tuesday to brief him on the proposal and that he wasn't able to meet with them at that time.