State watchdog made recommendations to county

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The watchdog agency charged with reviewing complaints about child-protection issues in Colorado has examined 20 reports related to Mesa County since July 2015.

The Child Protection Ombudsman of Colorado, an independent, unbiased entity charged with bringing accountability and transparency to the child-welfare system, conducted five inquiries, one investigation and 14 reviews in response to those reports made. As a result, the office issued two letters to the Mesa County Department of Human Services in the last year, according to Sabrina Byrnes, deputy ombudsman.

One of those letters, dated March 15 and obtained with the Colorado Open Records Act, was in reference to a case where children in the foster-care system had moved between Mesa and Delta counties.

The office found the initial referral, assigned to a caseworker to follow up on within five working days, was not completed. The caseworker went to a school to interview the alleged victims, found they weren’t enrolled, and then didn’t attempt to make contact again for nearly a month. The children had moved to Delta County, but no efforts were made to contact their new school. Mesa County also did not notify Delta County that the family moved and should have transferred jurisdiction, the office found.

The complainant also reported that caseworkers had written unprofessional text messages and emails to each other, which the ombudsman’s office validated and recommended a review of professional standards.

The other letter, dated Feb. 5, concerned a complaint that the county had failed to address allegations of sexual contact and that a father was emotionally abusing a child by not accepting the child’s gender preferences. It turned out that the sexual abuse allegation was inaccurately marked on a form.

The ombudsman also found that Mesa County had consulted with state officials for guidance on the child’s issues with sexual orientation, and were instructed to not discuss the topic, but should have talked with the father about the matter instead of just observing interactions between the parent and child. “The person who directed them is no longer at the state department,” said Byrnes.

In response to these letters, Mesa County officials developed plans to address training issues and remedy the problems, and followed up with the ombudsman.

To date, the ombudsman’s office has made 205 recommendations to child-welfare agencies, and only one county has not been responsive, said Byrnes.

“Mesa County has been extremely responsive and open to criticism,” Byrnes said. “They really are working hard to improve their system.”

For more information or to contact the ombudsman’s office, visit protectcoloradochildren.org.


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