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.
"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.
More from our Follow That Story archives: "North High: How many seniors graduated from school that used credit recovery courses?"
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.