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New Colorado laws will provide help for at risk adults, kids in trouble

June 1, 2017 Updated: June 1, 2017 at 6:38 pm
photo - Colorado State Capitol Building
Colorado State Capitol Building 

The Colorado Department of Human Services is celebrating some good news for the people it assists with the governor's fresh signature on three laws Wednesday.

- House Bill 1284 requires background checks for those working directly with at-risk adults.

- House Bill 2017 steers children younger than 13 to programs instead of incarceration for low-level offense.

- Senate Bill 292 creates a jobs program for people on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

House Bill 1284 was sponsored by Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Sens. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and Irene Aguilar, D-Denver.

DHS said the change was needed because there was no good way for an employer to find out if a job candidate had a valid case of abuse, neglect or exploitation against an at-risk adult. That information is available in the Adult Protective Services database, however.

"Colorado requires background checks for teachers, at licensed child care facilities and in many other professions - and for good reason," Mindy Kemp, director of the DHS's Division of Aging and Adult Services, said in a statement. "But there is no such requirement to check for prior instances of mistreatment for the people who care for the most vulnerable adults in our society. This law will close that loophole and make Colorado safer for at-risk adults."

Those legally considered "at-risk" of mistreatment in Colorado include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, dementia or a brain injury.

"Both of these new laws are important safeguards against abuse," Lontine said. "At-risk adults and their loved ones deserve greater protection against those who might take advantage of the trust placed in them. And physical coercion of students should be a last resort that is subject to rigorous review."

DHS said cases of abuse against at-risk adults has increased 60 percent since 2014, and people older than 60 account for three-fourths of the cases.

The problem will worsen as the state's population gets older as Baby Boomers continue to retire, the agency forecasts.

House Bill 2017 was sponsored by Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, to bar 10- to 12-year-olds from detention for non-violent, misdemeanor offenses.

"We need to take care of our youth and give them the support they need to learn from their mistakes and move on," Lee said. "This law ensures that our 10- to 12- year olds are not put into the Division of Youth Corrections for minor offenses and instead that they receive supportive services and placement in the community."

In the last fiscal year, there were 164 such detention-center incarcerations in Colorado.

"Locking up nonviolent 10- to 12-year-olds does nothing to reduce future offenses," Anders Jacobson, director of the Division of Youth Corrections, stated. "Instead, it might actually increase their chance for recidivism and places them at a greater risk of self-harm. With this law in place, we'll get these youth the services they need to improve their lives in their own communities."

Senate Bill 292 was sponsored by Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, and Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, to create a jobs program for 720 public-assistance recipients a year.

The bill requires the state to spend $4 million a year for the first three years to subsidize employers for up to 400 hours of work over a six-month period for each person in the program. Those who participate will have experience and a shot at a permanent job.

The money would come from a nearly $32 million reserve that the state has built up from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families it receives from the federal government.

DHS said the program is similar to its ReHire Colorado jobs effort to help people get off or decrease their dependence on public assistance, and 84 percent of the participants were able to cut back or drop off government food subsidies.

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