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Colorado counties fight takeover of social services

October 1, 2009

DENVER • Colorado counties say they will fight any attempt by the state to take over social services following the deaths of several children.

The Colorado Department of Human Services included the recommendation in a report Thursday to Gov. Bill Ritter from a task force investigating deaths in the child welfare system.

Chip Taylor, legislative director for Colorado Counties Inc., a statewide group representing counties, said counties offer local solutions for local problems and the state shouldn't meddle in their affairs.

"We're not excited about the fact that the state is saying we're not doing a good job and they want to come in and take it over," Taylor said.

Taylor said his organization has asked for a meeting with Ritter to discuss the recommendation.

Arapahoe County Commissioner Susan Beckman, who chairs CCI's social services committee, sent Ritter a strongly worded letter saying counties have invested decades of effort and millions of dollars to provide services to families in their communities.

"This wide, far-reaching recommendation proposes to fundamentally and radically alter the organizational structure for delivering child welfare and other human services in Colorado. Frankly, we are shocked at the secrecy surrounding the process and its outcome leaves Colorado Counties Inc. in disbelief that your administration would operate in this manner," she told the governor.

CCI executive director Larry Kallenberger said he was assured by the governor's staff that it was only a recommendation that would be reviewed. Kallenberger said counties "share a commitment to protecting children's lives and will work to help move forward recommendations that will help improve the system for all children."

Ritter thanked the committee and said he would review the recommendations.

"Our No. 1 focus must be on protecting Colorado's children," he said. "The status quo was failing, but thanks to the work of the committee, we are beginning to make important changes, including the upcoming launch of the state's first Child Welfare Training Academy," a program to train welfare providers.

Republicans said the recommendation is another example of Democrats trying to increase the size of government.

"What we're seeing in Washington and Colorado is a complete takeover by the central government," said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.

Ritter created the task force following a state investigation into the deaths of 13 children whose families had previous contact with social workers.

The investigation found that training of social workers was inadequate and communications problems occur between county social workers and the state human services department.

Under the current system, social services are administered by counties and supervised by the state.

The report recommends establishing a centralized call system for reporting suspected abuse and neglect, the creation of a child advocate office, requiring counties to provide feedback to mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect, and stricter timeframes for providing services to families that move to different jurisdictions.

The report also recommended that the state move to a hybrid organizational model, allowing for regionalization of 53 of the state's 64 counties to streamline and improve services. Larger counties could opt out, but opponents say they would also have to pay a penalty.

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