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Failed to Death: State, counties differ on when probes of child abuse are needed

2:24 PM, Nov 19, 2012   |    comments
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For the first time, counties invited 9NEWS and The Denver Post to see every step of the child abuse complaint process and see how caseworkers work to reunited children who have been removed.

"That is always the goal," State Division of Child Welfare director Ruby Richards said. "Public human service agencies don't make very good parents. We have done some disservice to children by trying to raise them in our system."

9NEWS was there at the start of the day when abuse complaints came in to Arapahoe County's tip line. Staff with years of experience then determine if the tip needs a follow up.

Katie Gleason is a caseworker who investigates tips that need attention. On the day 9NEWS shadowed her, she was checking on a baby with a suspicious broken leg.

"There are concerns the baby hasn't been seen by an orthopedic surgeon at Children's [Hospital] which is what was recommended," she told us before meeting with the family.

After talking to the mother she learned the parents needed time to take the bus to the hospital. The broken leg turned out be an accident, according to a doctor.

Other caseworkers, such as Andrea Woods, help parents through long term issues.

She visited a mom who was being allowed to have her children for overnight visits for the first time since the department removed her children.

"I feel really good, the house is beautiful," Woods said.

A caseworker's job can be tough. A recent survey showed 59 percent suffered from compassion fatigue. That caused on the job problems, burnout and turnover, the study said.

It's especially tough when caseworkers have to remove kids.

"In the 20 years I've done this, I can say I've never seen a child that wanted to leave. I've had cases where kids have broken arms and want to know, 'When can I go home,'" Richards said.

When coming home isn't an option, families end up in a parental rights termination hearing.

Denver Juvenile Judge Karen Ashby has spent nearly a dozen years hearing these cases.

"There's a lot of responsibility in this job. I recognize and I think any judge who handles these cases recognizes that the decisions we make have very serious long term impacts," Ashby said.

She said it's her goal too for parents to be reunited with their families.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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