As the state's legislative session draws to a close, a group of parents involved in grim custody battles are celebrating a quiet victory -- the passage of a bill that strips court-appointed child/family investigators, or CFIs, of their long-running immunity from state oversight and regulations that apply to other mental-health professionals.
Sponsored by Denver Democrat Linda Newell, Senate Bill 187 contains several reforms for the process of how the state regulates the mental-health industry. But it was a single item in the bill, repealing a provision that essentially exempted CFIs from oversight by the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), that drew the most passionate testimony -- mostly from parents complaining about imperious CFIs making life-changing decisions about custody and parenting time, with little or no recourse for parents who felt they and their children had been treated unfairly.
The CFI system was conceived as a source of independent evaluation to assist family court judges in making difficult rulings in divorce and custody actions. But critics of the system related horror stories to Newell and other lawmakers about CFI "hired guns" with a long record of bias, outrageous fees, inadequate evaluations and other misconduct. It's estimated that DORA receives around sixty complaints about CFIs every year -- but fails to act on any of them because of their court-appointed status.
When SB 187 becomes law, though, CFIs in the mental-health field will be subject to the same scrutiny and standards as other licensed professionals.
Parents United for Change, one of the groups supporting the bill, sent out an e-mail urging its members to thank Newell and other key movers of the legislation. The state courts have also just issued new guidelines for CFIs, capping fees at $2000 -- which some attorneys fear will affect the quality of the reports.
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See our previous coverage of the bill, "Child/family investigator measure moves ahead amid tales of greed trumping kids' best interest," here. Although Westword encourages robust discussions of important issues such as this, if our comments policy is abused again, we will have to take down the offending posts and lock out further comments. Have questions about our policy? Feel free to call me at 303-293-3550 with any questions. -- Patricia Calhoun