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Blog: Judge's tirade against child welfare caseworkers hits point

2:35 PM, Apr 11, 2013   |    comments
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This will go down in my memory as one of the angriest and most passionate tirades I've heard


With his lip sometimes quivering and furious tone, Judge Chris Melonakis didn't hold back as he unleashed a verbal assault on the Adams County Human Services Department, child welfare caseworkers and their supervisors.

In the ten-minute courtroom barrage, Judge Melonakis called for a grand jury investigation against the department and basically held caseworkers directly responsible for the death of toddler Michael Harris.

Here's one of the quotes from the video you'll have to watch (at about 8:42):

"It's appalling the level of neglect, not by the mother, which is appalling, but by the state, charged with the care and protection of a child. It is ridiculous. It transcends the boundaries of human decency. Irrespective of the bureaucratic ability to hide behind privacy laws, to hide behind privilege, to make no statements, to try and cover their tracks, knowing the press is going to go away. The stories don't have legs for five years. Judges get rotated out of divisions, so you can come in with a new judge and give him the smiley face and convince him you're doing your job. That administrative review takes years, and years, and years...and children die and bureaucrats still have their jobs. That's the way it works. That's the way the system in this state is set up."

During our Failed to Death coverage, we repeatedly ran into counties claiming "privacy laws" prevented them from talking about a child fatality.

How convenient.

We illustrated this obstacle while I profiled the case of a little boy named Andres Estrada. He died despite numerous calls to police and caseworkers about neglect and no supervision in his home.

Adams County wouldn't talk to us about the Estrada case, and deferred comment to the state.

Counties want local control of their caseworkers and human services departments. And they make a good argument that they are more familiar with what services families need at their local level. Makes sense.

However, when a county makes a mistake, and a child dies, it doesn't want the local accountability. It doesn't want to answer to the public or press. It draws the privacy law curtains, and escapes scrutiny.

If counties want to operate their own human services departments, they should be transparent at the local level so mistakes and errors can be fixed. That's just good government.

Who are privacy laws protecting? Children?

If only the dead could have their say.

Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jeremy Jojola? Call him at 303-871-1425 or e-mail him
jeremy.jojola@9news.com



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