The summary report — released by the Colorado Department of Human Services, the first required under a law passed last year — examines cases of child fatalities, near fatalities and incidents of egregious abuse or neglect from 2012.
Trends detailed in the report are meant to create a better understanding of the causes of child abuse and neglect, and identify deficiencies in how cases were handled by child welfare services and other agencies, such as law enforcement.
The report also made 23 recommendations for improving child welfare services at both the state and county level, and in some instances it described how some departments are implementing the suggestions.
“It is a baseline report and the first one ever as dictated by statute,” Human Service Department spokeswoman Liz McDonough said. “We appreciate that the recommendations were included, and we are already working toward implementing many of them and we look forward to continuing to report our progress to the General Assembly.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper and lawmakers received a copy of the report Tuesday.
The Department of Human Services completes a fatality review if the child died of abuse or neglect and had contact with child welfare services during the two years prior to death. Before the new law’s implementation in August, Colorado did not track or review near fatalities or cases of egregious abuse or neglect and was out of compliance with federal requirements.
In 2012, nine fatalities, two near fatalities and one incident of egregious abuse qualified for full fatality review, although information from 37 cases of maltreatment was used to create the 32-page report.
The report offers broad recommendations for ways to improve child welfare services across the state, and it gave specific suggestions for way to improve practices and tools used by caseworkers in individual counties.
Three of the report’s recommendations focused on Trails, the computer system used to track child welfare cases. The system can make it difficult to track reports about families that move from county to county. One recommendation suggested creating a scrolling alert in the system to notify caseworkers in any county when there is a concern about the welfare of a child.
Eight suggestions focused on creating better systems and tools for caseworkers completing risk and safety assessments on children. Improved assessment tools are expected to be implemented this fall, according to the report.
Other recommendations looked at improving communications between law enforcement agencies and mental health services.
Specific recommendations were made for Adams, Denver, Eagle and Mesa counties, each of which saw at least one child fatality last year.
Additional coaching on how to use the risk-assessment tool in making decisions about children’s safety was recommended for Denver Human Services.
“At Denver Human Services, we have worked hard to build a culture of continuous improvement,” spokeswoman Revekka Balancier said. “We welcome all occasions to examine practice, and look forward to continued close partnership with the state and other counties to share information and find opportunities for development that will provide better outcomes for children and families.”
Issues with Colorado’s child welfare system were detailed in the Denver Post/9News series Failed to Death.
Jordan Steffen: 303-954-1794, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jsteffendp
Numbers from the department of human services report
• Twenty-four of the 26 substantiated child fatalities recorded by the Department of Human Services were children 5 or younger.
• Almost half of the mothers were under the age of 24 at the time of their child’s death.
• In 30 percent of child fatalities in 2012, the child’s family had a history of mental health issues.
• Half of the near fatalities reviewed involved families with histories of domestic violence.