For nearly 16 hours from Wednesday night into Thursday, caseworkers in El Paso County and elsewhere in Colorado couldn’t access child safety information on abuse and neglect reports due to a glitch in the state’s revamped case management system.
The lapse made more than 900 child welfare assessments inaccessible to county staff until just before noon Thursday, said Kristina Iodice, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Human Services.
A spokeswoman for the governor's information technology office said that the assessments were not showing up in caseworker's queues during the glitch, but that each assessment could still be viewed by entering an identification number.
The outage marks the latest issue with the system, which county DHS workers have been grappling with since the state rolled out the new modernized version in late July.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep children in El Paso County safe,” Julie Krow, executive director of the county DHS, said Thursday morning. “But we’re compromised because some of the tools that we have are not working effectively.”
The rebooted system’s shortfalls include corrupt data, missing referrals and inaccurate scores related to risk and safety in child welfare reports, the Colorado Human Services Directors Association said in an Oct. 19 letter to the state DHS.
Dan Makelky, president of the association and Douglas County DHS director, wrote in the letter the problems are “crippling our work and putting the safety of children and families at risk,” and the state isn’t acting fast enough to fix them.
State officials say no data was lost in the most recent outage, and they are working with county DHS departments to correct other issues and put safeguards in place to prevent glitches.
“We want to make sure nothing falls through the cracks,” said Krystal Grint, DHS child protection manager. “There was such a volume of impacted assessments, that even one lost is too many.”
El Paso County DHS workers first noticed that assessment information wasn’t visible in the system about 8 p.m. Wednesday, after Douglas County pointed out the issue, Krow said.
The problem arose when state IT staff were working to “clean up” the database after county workers had found that pending referrals were erroneously appearing in caseworkers’ queues, said Brandi Simmons, chief communications officer for the Governor’s Office of Information Technology. The IT staff mistakenly included child welfare assessments in the update, making the assessments disappear from view, Simmons said.
The multiphase system revamp, known as Trails Modernization, is costing nearly $23 million, Simmons said. The project is intended to update the system’s technology, which dates back to the 1980s, and make it more secure and user-friendly for DHS workers.
The system overhaul was a key part of reforms promised by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2012 after The Denver Post and 9News reviewed the cases of 72 children whose families or caregivers had been reported to the state’s child protection system before their deaths. The investigation found a lack of coordination between county and state officials, funding inequities and overburdened workers.
El Paso County’s child welfare program fields referrals from the public as well as others who are required by law to report signs of abuse, such as school teachers and medical professionals. Reports that meet the legal requirements for alleged child abuse and neglect are assigned to a caseworker, who typically has 60 days to assess whether the allegations appear to be true.
The county employs about 70 intake caseworkers who handle child welfare assessments, Iodice said. At any given time, a caseworker may be assigned 20 to 35 assessments.
If the caseworker believes the allegations are true, county DHS takes steps to resolve safety concerns. Those measures might include routine caseworker visits, assistance from other organizations or, in some cases, seeking to remove a child from a home to be placed with a relative or foster parents.
The Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this story.