In the six months since it opened, the Office of Colorado's Child Protection Ombudsman has investigated fifty calls ranging from complaints that entire counties are corrupt to more specific cries for help, says ombudsman Becky Miller Updike. Still, she'd like to hear from even more people who have concerns, suggestions or compliments about what most can agree is a heartbreaking system -- even when it works correctly.
Anyone can call, she says, including parents involved in the child protection system, teachers or neighbors who want to make sure a child abuse report is being investigated, and even social workers within the system who have ideas to make it better. "They should know this is a place they can go without fear of retaliation," Miller Updike says.
The purpose of the ombudsman's office is to serve as a neutral organization to hear grievances about the system, make recommendations for improvements and help families navigate the ins and outs. It was created in 2010 thanks to a bill sponsored by Senator Linda Newell, a Littleton Democrat, and Miller Updike was hired in May. The idea grew out of a recommendation made by a committee convened in 2008 by then-Governor Bill Ritter to investigate Colorado's system in the wake of several child deaths.
The office began taking calls as soon as it opened, Miller Updike says, even though it didn't yet have all the necessary infrastructure in place. Now, however, it's fully up and running -- with a functional website, Facebook page and toll-free number (855-5-SAFEKIDS).
The office is also undertaking a study of the complaint processes in all of Colorado's 64 counties, each of which handles its own child-welfare cases under the state's (somewhat controversial) state-supervised, county-run system. Miller Updike hopes the study will highlight any flaws and allow the counties to share best practices. Stay tuned.
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