The debate over how to serve the state's neediest citizens, including abused children, has come to a head in the weeks since a governor-appointed committee recommended that the state should take over county responsibilities for child welfare and services such as Medicaid and food stamps -- an idea that the counties don't like one bit.
The Child Welfare Action Committee has made a total of 29 recommendations to Gov. Bill Ritter, who formed the committee in 2008 after thirteen Colorado children died of abuse in 2007, including seven-year-old Chandler Grafner, who was starved to death by his mother's ex-boyfriend and his girlfriend.
A recent federal review critical of Colorado's system, in which services are delivered by the counties instead of by the state, underscores the need for reform, some say.
The committee's most controversial suggestion has been to hand power to the state, a move Ritter called "bold" but "exactly the kinds of things we put this committee in place to do."
Today, the counties responded with a plan for a series of meetings to be held all over the state that would bring together county law enforcement agencies, educators and non-profit organizations to "suggest ways in which child welfare and all social services can be improved," according to a press release.
Susan Beckman, an Arapahoe County commissioner and chairwoman of the Colorado Counties, Inc. Health and Human Services Steering Committee, says the meetings are not a defensive move -- although she vehemently opposes the plan for centralized services. Instead, she says, they're meant to "diagram what's currently happening in the counties and make recommendations of how it should be better."
Some of the questions she's hoping to answer include: What happens when child abuse is reported? What resources do we have? What resources do we need? Are there duplicate services? What does the research show?
"We're going to be working in these communities, around tables, trying to figure out how we can better provide services within the structure we have," she says.
The meetings are slated to start in January, though Beckman says an exact schedule hasn't been finalized. Also scheduled to begin in January: a new, statewide Child Welfare Training Academy for caseworkers, which was recommended by the governor's committee.
Ritter has said he plans to study the proposal to transfer human-service responsibilities from counties to the state for a year. He's asked for county input -- and that's exactly what Beckman hopes to give him.
"There's no defensiveness here," she says. "We're ready to roll up our sleeves and work."
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