County joins child services reform

Training, communication introduced in Montezuma

Child Protection Services is undergoing changes statewide meant to increase transparency, child-abuse prevention and standardize county CPS offices. Locally, a new questionnaire for callers reporting child abuse and training for parents with at-risk children have been introduced.

Last year, five laws meant to improve CPS statewide were passed after a 2012 investigative series by The Denver Post. The series showed that from 2007 to 2012, 178 children had died from abuse or neglect statewide and 72 of them were previously known to CPS workers.

As part of the changes, the state launched a website last week with county-by-county child abuse and neglect data meant to increase transparency.

The numbers show reports to CPS locally far outnumber cases in which abuse or neglect is found to be a problem.

During 2013, there were 84 cases of child abuse or neglect, and the number of children in foster care in the county hovered at 30 in Montezuma County. All the data is publicly available at http://www.cdhsdatamatters.org/data-by-county.html

CPS receives about 15 reports a week about possible child abuse or neglect when school is in session, said Chris Veach, who supervises CPS locally. In 2013, the county department received 390 reports total of suspected child abuse and neglect. Of those reports, 254 assessments were completed concerning the safety of 486 children, said Dennis Story, director of social services for Montezuma and Dolores counties.

CPS workers are now required to walk through a 10-page questionnaire with the anyone who calls to report child abuse. The extended screening has been required for about two months locally. CPS investigators will still look into reports when the caller does not provide all the information in the questionnaire.

But Veach is hopeful that the new process will allow investigators to have a more complete picture of a child's situation before knocking on a family's door.

"The government's trying to back off because we're kind of a scary group. So if we don't need to be in there, we'll try to stay out. But if we need to be, then of course we will be," Veach said at the April meeting of the Montelores Early Childhood Council.

Typically, those who call in suspected abuse and neglect already have a relationship with that child or the family and may have information that will save an investigator time, Veach said.

The questionnaire includes demographic information about possible victims and more than 40 other questions.

Cases will now be reviewed by a team of people who will decide major turning points of a case, such as removing children from a home. This was already part of the process in Montezuma County, but the intent is that it will add expertise and take the pressure of a single person should something happen to a child.

"That is really big burden," said Julie Krow, director of the Office of Children, Youth and Family Services.

Prevention

The county also started a program at the end of January called SafeCare to help parents of children from 0 to 5 years old learn about how to take care of problem behavior, child development, safety and health. The program is optional, and the lessons take place at a child's home once a week for 18 to 20 weeks.

The program was adapted from a mandatory CPS program in Oklahoma, said Desmond Runyan, executive director of the Kempe Center, which helped the state develop the reforms.

Locally, six families are in the SafeCare program, said Penny Johnson, SafeCare coordinator for Montezuma and La Plata counties. Families reported to CPS, but those who don't need a formal intervention may be referred to SafeCare as a preventative service.

For every dollar spent on SafeCare, the state has the potential to save $13.35, Runyan said. However, enrollment remains low, and agencies are still learning to market the program.

"Families don't understand what they can get out of it," Runyan said.

For example, the program can help parents manage tantrums, get children to eat and go to bed on time, or learn when it's best to take children to the emergency room, said Johnson.

Changes in progress

The state is also collecting data about caseloads from every county. Previously the counties did not report caseload data to the state, and the state won't know the average caseload until the study is finished, said Runyan.

In addition, a statewide hotline is being developed so that by 2015, there will be one phone number to call and report abuse by 2015. The hotline is meant to clear up confusion in places such as Denver, where hospital staff serve children from many counties, said Runyan.