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State officials: case workers couldn't prevent boy's death

9:48 PM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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Last January, police found his body wrapped in plastic and blankets beneath his mother's trailer home in Sterling, Colorado.

His mother, Juanita Kinzie, was sentenced to 32 years in prison after pleading guilty to 2nd degree murder and child abuse charges.

Throughout his short life, Caleb was on and off the radar screens of county child welfare workers, but the system did not take him out of his mom's home.

Whether or not that system could have saved Caleb's life, was at the heart of a new kind of state report on his death. The report by the Colorado Department of Human Services says "no."

Caleb's case is the first to be examined under a more detailed format under a new state law. It also looks at the system and what changes might help prevent another tragedy.

54 ALERTS

County child welfare workers were alerted 54 times about concerns for Caleb's safety.

Due to strict legal guidelines, only nine of those alerts were able to be investigated further.

In unprecedented detail, the state's report spells out what happened in all nine of those instances.

Many of the calls involve people concerned that Kinzie was abusing drugs. One of the calls came from Kinzie herself. She wanted to turn Caleb over to foster care, but ultimately arranged for a relative to help her care for Caleb that time.

In each of the nine instances, the state's report finds that county officials ultimately handled the situation correctly.

The state's report did find that case workers in Douglas and Logan counties made some errors on Caleb's case.

Those mistakes were of "an administrative and record keeping nature and had no impact on the child's death," according to the report.

WHAT COULD HAVE HELPED

Instead of simply checking whether the rules were followed and leaving it at that, the state's report asked "what could have helped?"

In Caleb's case, two useful suggestions surfaced.

One is a change to the software system used by case workers. The report recommends a scrolling alert that would appear on screen when a case worker searches for a child that another county is concerned about. Caleb's case was handled by three different counties that could have potentially benefited from sharing information more readily.

Another suggestion had to do with the 54 alerts county workers got about Caleb's situation. 45 of those calls couldn't be investigated further under the law, but the report suggests those calls should be tracked anyhow so the information isn't ignored.

Nobody can say for sure that either of these improvements to the system would have saved Caleb's life, but they couldn't have hurt.

NAMING NAMES

If you read the report, you'll notice one big thing missing: Caleb's name.

By matching the details in the report with what we know about Caleb's case, 9NEWS can put this story together for you.

A member of the public could find the report, but would have to connect the dots to put the story together.

That's because state and federal laws require child welfare workers to keep names secret. Human Services Director Reggie Bicha thinks that should change in the case of child death investigations.

"We think the public has a need to know who it is that we're talking about," Bicha said.

He hopes state lawmakers will change the confidentiality requirement so the public can have a clearer understanding of what happened in tragic cases like Caleb's.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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