In 2008, Governor Bill Ritter formed a committee to study Colorado's child-welfare system. (The year before, Chandler Grafner and twelve other children involved with the system died at the hands of their caregivers.) The committee came up with more than thirty suggestions, one of which was a statewide child protection ombudsman. Now, with the drafting of a plan for how the ombudsman would operate, the much-celebrated resource is one step closer to reality.
According to the plan, the ombudsman will independently and impartially investigate concerns or complaints against Colorado's sprawling county-administered, state-supervised child-welfare system. He or she will also review individual cases, establish a statewide grievance protocol and advise lawmakers.
Legislation to create the ombudsman was introduced by Senator Linda Newell, a Littleton Democrat who was heartbroken over the stories of child deaths. Newell also helped write the plan for how the office will work, which details the qualifications an ombudsman should have, the ombudsman's power and duties, and the structure of the office itself.
"I'm thrilled, I'm excited, I'm nervous," Newell says. What makes her most anxious, she adds, is funding. As of now, the child protection ombudsman has a budget of $175,000 for the first six months of 2011. "We've put out some feelers for some fundraising," she says. "Part of the issue is, we don't know how much this is going to cost."
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The next step is drafting a request-for-proposals for the ombudsman position, and then sifting through the applications. The plan specifies that the person hired cannot work within the system -- as a social worker, lawyer or advocate -- while holding the position.
"Now it's going to be fascinating to see who wants to apply," Newell says.
The plan calls for the position to be filled by December and for work to begin in January.
More on this subject from our News archive: "Child welfare ombudsman: Panel looking to prevent deaths like Chandler Grafner's."