Colorado has chosen its first child protection ombudsman: Becky Miller Updike, whose résumé includes sixteen years of child advocacy, most recently at the Tennyson Center for Children in Denver. As ombudsman, she will review complaints about the state's child welfare system -- a job that was born of a long bureaucratic process and several sad stories.
As explained in the Westword feature "Death Knell," former Governor Bill Ritter formed a committee in 2008 to study Colorado's child welfare system after learning that thirteen children in the system had died the year before. They included seven-year-old Chandler Grafner, whose story of being starved to death by his caregivers made headlines.
The committee came up with dozens of recommendations, some of which were controversial. One called for the creation of a child protection ombudsman, an independent office to field complaints and make recommendations for how to improve the child welfare system -- in part to prevent further deaths.
Senator Linda Newell, a Littleton Democrat, sponsored a bill to create the ombudsman office and helped draft a detailed plan for how it would operate. Last week, the state Department of Human Services announced it had chosen the Aurora-based National Association of Counsel for Children to run the office and Miller Updike to be ombudsman.
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"This office will be a beacon of light for abused and neglected children," Newell said.
The office hopes to begin investigations by the end of the summer. It also plans to embark on a listening tour to gather feedback "not just on particular cases, but on systemic issues that people might see," says Liz McDonough, DHS spokeswoman.
In the meantime, the ombudsman can be reached at (303) 864-5321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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