Child welfare: Hickenlooper's new plan calls for "common practice approach" in all 64 counties

State officials have a new plan for improving Colorado's child-welfare system, one that will beef up training for caseworkers, make data about child deaths more readily available, and employ a "common practice approach" in all 64 counties -- an idea that hasn't gotten far in the past, as explained in our cover story, "Death Knell."

In 2009 a committee appointed by then-Governor Bill Ritter to recommend ways to fix Colorado's child-welfare program suggested an overhaul of the state's entire system to give more power to the state and less autonomy to the counties. But the counties balked and the recommendation went nowhere.

The new plan, announced last week by Governor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Department of Human Services head Reggie Bicha, calls for implementing "one practice approach and philosophy for the entire state to ensure the collaboration of best practices in caring for kids." As for what that approach will look like, Bicha notes that it involves expanding the "differential response" model, which allows caseworkers more flexibility in the way they respond to reports of child abuse. As for other details, Bicha says, "This is not a finalized process, and certain details will continue to be shaped as the plan evolves."

In unveiling the plan, officials pointed out some sobering statistics: 43 children involved with the child-welfare system have died in the past five years.

Those deaths include well-known cases, such as that of Chandler Grafner, and lesser-known ones, including that of Ashaquae Foster, whose mother and stepfather found her bleeding on a urine-soaked mattress in the bedroom she shared with her developmentally delayed aunt. They waited six hours before seeking medical attention because they worried they'd get in trouble for locking Ashaquae in her room, where she'd gone to sleep the night before with a bloody nose. The coroner found that she'd choked to death.

Colorado took a much-lauded step toward better protecting children last year, when it opened the Office of Colorado's Child Protection Ombudsman, designed to serve as a neutral organization to hear grievances about the child-welfare system, make recommendations for improvements and help families navigate the system's ins and outs.

But Hickenlooper and Bicha want to do more. Read a summary of their plan below.

Keeping Kids Safe and Families Healthy

More from our News archive: "Police brutality: Denver provides eight years of complaints in James Moore case."

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