Cases highlight what many consider a broken child welfare system

1:28 PM, Oct 12, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - Two high-profile child-welfare cases are raising questions about the safety of Colorado kids.

The cases highlight a lack of transparency and accountability in what many consider a broken child-welfare system.

Inside a Denver home, police say six children were living in filth, malnourished and were grunting to communicate. The parents, Lorinda Bailey and her common-law husband Wayne Sperling, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abuse in 2006, only to be allowed to continue raising children in the same filthy conditions. Denver Police arrested the couple on felony child abuse charges this week, roughly seven years after their first arrest. (Learn more about that story here:

Another tragic case involves the suspicious death of Domonique Borrego in Mexico, just two days after making a phone call voicing concern about her American-born kids. Denver case workers took Joey and Pedro Vasquez out of foster care and sent them to live with their father, even though court testimony accused him of physical abuse. (Learn more about that story here: A Denver juvenile court judge is calling an emergency hearing to review Pedro and Joey's case on Tuesday afternoon.

A previous hearing attended by 9NEWS was closed by a judge due to confidentiality concerns.

A foster mom (9NEWS will call "Elizabeth" because her identity needs to be hidden for safety reasons) says the system is full of good people trying to do the right thing, but she says case workers hide behind what she calls a "cloak of confidentiality" when mistakes are made and kids end up suffering.

"Our system is broken," Elizabeth said. "It's dysfunctional and we are not upholding the best interests of our children."

9Wants to Know found more than 3,000 child-abuse complaints in one year never received a proper investigation.

Colorado ranks 47th in the nation for transparency in such cases.

State Senator Linda Newell (D-District 26) sponsored child-welfare reform laws, and she's pushing for more transparency which she says is key to improving the system.

"It is very easy for departments to potentially hide things," Newell said. "I think the bottom line is holding the counties accountable. [But] all of us our responsible for not only the system, but the society that we are creating. Some of it is not the system at all."

Newell is working to increase child-welfare funding and staffing to keep caseloads manageable.

"Elizabeth" says many kids caught up in the system deserve better, as do the many case workers who hard to protect kids.

"They work in a dysfunctional system," "Elizabeth" said. "We demand transparency. We demand that someone be held accountable for what is going on."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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