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Reviewers in child deaths have $3M contracts
October 11, 2007 permalink
Denver child protectors had a scandal on their hands when Chandler Grafner died after being taken into care and Neveah Gallegos died after not being taken into care, so they hired two external agencies to review their department, the Kempe Center and the Annie E Casey Foundation. Both have financial ties to the department. This article shows why the reviews can't lead to any real reforms.
Reviewers in child deaths have $3M contracts
By Arthur Kane, The Denver Post Article Last Updated: 10/11/2007 12:08:08 PM MDT
One of the two nonprofit organizations conducting an external review of the Denver Department of Human Services after the deaths of two children has received city contracts totaling at least $3 million over six years.
The other agency provided the department with a grant of up to $200,000 this year and is using Denver as one of 15 sites where it will study how its child-protection proposals work.
DDHS manager Roxane White announced last month that the Kempe Center, which received the contracts, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which provided the grant, would conduct a review of her department's policies at the same time as the Colorado Department of Human Services. The review is a response to the deaths this year of two children - Chandler Grafner and Neveah Gallegos - whom human-services workers had the opportunity to remove from homes where abuse was suspected.
State Rep. Debbie Stafford, an Aurora Republican who has focused on children's issues, questioned whether a nonprofit that receives money from the department can impartially investigate that agency.
"That's a conflict of interest," said Stafford, who will propose a bill this session creating an independent ombudsman for children. "It would certainly raise eyebrows that it is a valid and objective assessment."
The assessment by the organizations will review hotline calls, files, interview staff and look at neglect filings to determine whether DDHS has proper practices and policies in place to protect children.
Small portion of budget
Kempe spokeswoman Lindsey Zimmerman said the nonprofit could be independent, despite the contracts it receives from the government, and that Denver would not have chosen it if there were questions about the organization's impartiality.
White said Kempe's contracts are not a big enough part of Kempe's budget to taint the review. "Kempe has a national and international reputation and will do this in an independent way," she said.
Zimmerman could not provide Kempe's budget, but its foundation spent $3 million last year, according to its 2006 tax forms.
Elsa Holguin, a member of the Denver Human Services advisory board, said some agencies, such as the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center, were not asked to participate in the review because they receive too much of their funding from the department. White said that was one factor, along with the size, reputation and breadth of services, in asking Kempe and Casey instead of others.
The Kempe contracts require the foundation to provide mental and medical services to abused and neglected children.
The Casey Foundation provided money to DDHS this year as part of its Family to Family initiative. The initiative works to provide neighborhood-based, culturally sensitive care emphasizing less reliance on hospitals, shelters and group homes. It also advocates improved foster care for children who must be removed from home and screening services to safely preserve families, according to the foundation's website.
Denver was chosen as one of Casey's anchor cities to gather data on the success of Family to Family.
White said the Family to Family concept is neutral on whether to work with the family on a voluntary basis or involve the juvenile court in taking the children or court-ordering parents to change their ways.
But White's department has built upon Family to Family to find ways that it can, when possible, safely provide services to families without involving the courts by removing a child. She said there are not enough foster homes or other places to raise children taken from their parents.
The debate over whether to involve the courts has been controversial in Neveah Gallegos' case because the department decided to allow the child to stay with her mother even after she was brought to a hospital with apparent signs of being sexually assaulted. Her mother declined to cooperate with police investigating her boyfriend in the assault, and no charges were ever filed, court records say.
Many have DDHS ties
A Jefferson County juvenile court put Chandler Grafner in the home where he died, placing him with an ex-boyfriend of his mother. Denver Human Services workers were then notified of a complaint from Chandler's school that he was missing from class but did not respond.
Retired Denver juvenile- court judge Dana Wakefield said he respects the Casey center's work but said DDHS has gone too far in avoiding the courts - especially in Neveah's case.
"You have a mom who won't protect the child, you have a boyfriend who is a sex offender - a bell should go off in the head of the (DDHS employee) that this is not a case where voluntary service is appropriate," he said. "It could be an example where a new approach blinds them to the facts."
Suzanne Barnard, Casey senior operations manager in the mountain west region, said Casey is most interested in the safety of the child, whether it is going to court or working with the family on a voluntary basis.
She said its Family to Family study would not color its work in the internal review.
White said it would be impossible to choose a major organization that doesn't have financial or other ties to DDHS.
"We're not that big of a town," she said.
Mayor John Hickenlooper said he stands behind the job White is doing at Human Services and believes the review will improve the child-protection system.
Source: The Denver Post