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What did the 2012 legislative session mean for Colorado’s at-risk, abused and neglected children in Colorado?

We continue to see news coverage about on-going child fatalities in Colorado, several known to the child welfare system. While it is easy to get frustrated and profess the system broken, in fact, there is much that can be done to improve our safty net. Several needed improvements required legislation in 2012 to create a child protection system that strengthens families and supports child well-being.  

Legislation in 2012 removed bureaucratic barriers standing in the way of permanency for children at the same time adding more accountability to our child protection system by requiring a review of policies and proceduresthat may have led to incidents of “near” fatalities of children in the custody of the state. However, legislative changes are often the first of many steps that must take place to improve the lives of children growing up in and out of the foster care system. State bureaucrats, county administrators, caseworkers and child advocates must now implement these new laws as they work to create healthy families and help children heal from childhood trauma. And, it is up to every community in Colorado to embrace the children we serve as their own to help support nonprofits, like Tennyson Center for Children, and county human services workers in this great endeavor. Love is something that only a community member can provide a child that needs a forever home.

How many kids will be directly impacted by laws improving child welfare?
Since 2003, the number of referrals in Colorado to social services for abuse and neglect has risen from 61,232 to 80,094 reports of suspected abuse or neglect in 2011. In 2011, 39,403 children in Colorado were identified as having been abused or neglected, 11,153 of those children were removed from their caretaker and placed in out-of-home placement with a relative, foster family, in a group home or in a residential treatment center, like Tennyson Center for Children. Tragically, 26 children died in Colorado in 2011 as a result of abuse or neglect.

Why do we care about issues beyond child welfare?
In addition to legislation directly focused on abused and neglected children in the child protection system, there are several issues that disproportionately affect vulnerable children in Colorado including poverty, P-20 education, early childhood development, child care, health care and juvenile justice. To truly prevent and end child abuse in Colorado, we must improve these areas as well.

Below is an overview of key legislation impacting “our kids”.

Keeping kids with family and friends, HB12-1047- allows social services to waive certain non-safety licensing standards for kinship foster care, thereby providing more financial support to relative caregivers of children who have been removed from their homes. All too often we hear stories of family or family friends, neighbors, or teachers who sincerely care about a child’s future and well-being, and but for financial resources or a technicality like a non-safety standard, these families would take that child into their family permanently or temporarily. The Fostering Connections Act gives states the ability to waive non-safety-related foster care licensing standards on a case-by-case basis for kin seeking to become foster parents, and may seek Title IV-E reimbursement for eligible children placed with such kin. While nothing prohibits states from placing a child with a relative, states using unlicensed kin may not seek federal reimbursement to support these families.  This 2012 legislation transfers the case-by case authority to waive non-safety standards from the state to a county director of social services, or his or her designee and license more kinship families as foster parents.

Removing barriers to permanency for children, SB12-066 - Guardianship Eligibility- For some children and teens in the child welfare system adoption is not the preferred permanency goal. A permanent and legal relationship of guardianship may be the next best option for a forever family. The Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance program is a formula grant that helps states provide guardianship assistance payments for the care of children by relatives who have assumed legal guardianship of eligible children from foster care. SB12-066 expanded eligibility for this program to those with a family-like relationship with the child or who have had a prior significant relationship with the child. Again, but for financial resources, these families would take that child into their family permanently.

Near Child Fatality Reviews, SB12-033 – Colorado is out of compliance with federal requirements with regard to reporting, tracking, and investigating these incidences, thus necessitating this legislation. This bill defines "near fatalities" and "incidents of egregious abuse or neglect" and adds the review of those events to the responsibilities of the department of human services child fatality review team. When the family has had previous involvement with child welfare and a near fatality or egregious incident occurs the review will identify factors that may have contributed to conditions leading up to the failure of our system and community to protect that child. This bill also provides for a process to increase the amount of information shared with the public regarding these cases to increase accountability within the system.

Responding to abuse in a different way, SB12-011 – allows for the expansion of a pilot program to respond to child abuse or neglect cases of low or moderate risk with services, without making a finding of abuse or neglect. This new practice is thought to be less antagonistic and more engaging with parents and family members. In 2010, the Colorado Consortium on Differential Response, a group comprised of five counties human service agencies and the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), received a $1.8 million federal research and development grant to fund a pilot project examining the effects of a this new Differential Response practice model on outcomes for children and families. The counties involved in the pilot returned to the 2012 legislature, before the end of the pilot program, to provide testimony of positive results for families and children.  

Early literacy bill, HB 12-1238 – In 2009, 60 percent of Colorado fourth graders were not reading at grade level. More than 20,000 K-3 students who struggle with reading will get additional, structured help – and a few of them may find themselves repeating third grade. Schools will be required to involve parents more closely in efforts to improve reading skills. Teachers in the early grades will have to learn some new skills for teaching literacy. The vast majority of the 39,403 children in Colorado identified as having been abused or neglected are in the public school system. Legislative review 2012 Written by on May 10th, 2012. |

Counselors and troubled kids, SB 12-046 – An easing of zero-tolerance discipline laws will mean teachers, counselors and vice principals will have more flexibility in school discipline and will have to brush up on new techniques. And some administrators will have more paperwork to file tracking the impact of new policies. The original discipline bill, Senate Bill 12-046, had to be folded into another measure because this bill was among the 30 bills which died in the house along with the bill supporting civil unions. Again, the vast majority of the 39,403 children in Coloradoidentified as having been abused or neglected are in the public school system. Given what they are struggling with at home, they tend to act out in school. Some students who otherwise would have been expelled or suspended likely will find themselves staying in school. Legislative review 2012 Written by on May 10th, 2012. |

Direct File, HB 1271 – Concerning Charging of Juveniles by Direct File of Information or Indictment in District Court. When a prosecutor uses their sole discretion to determine whether a child will be tried as an adult or child through “direct file” the court is unable to use relevant testimony of abuse or neglect as a mitigating factor in the sentencing of a youth if convicted, essentially tying the hands of the court. The results can be tragic. Abused children and youth who commit crimes need many things in addition to punishment; developmentally appropriate mental health treatment, education, stability, and job skills not found in an adult facility. HB 1271 amends the direct file statute to limit the offenses for which a juvenile may be subject to direct file and adds a hearing before a judge to determine if a child is tried as an adult or in juvenile court.

Child welfare funding
For SFY2012, $401,527,017 was appropriated in Long Bill HB-1335 for the Division of Child Welfare, as compared to $401,745,167 for SFY2011. However, the SFY2011 appropriation reflected a total decrease of 4.45% from SFY2010 of $ 420,452,810.  Approximately 97% of the funds were allocated to the County Departments for the Administration of Child Welfare Programs. The Child Welfare Services Block line item represented the largest source of funding (82%) for the Division of Child Welfare.

School funding
The state provides about two-thirds of K-12 operating funds every year, and the legislature sets the combination of state and local revenue used to pay for schools. The recession and resulting state revenue drops forced the 2009, 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions to cut school funding. This year was a different story because improving revenues allowed the legislature to keep school funding stable at about $5.3 billion in 2012-13, an average of $6,474.24 per student. Colorado ranks 49th in state spending on K-12 education as measured by personal income, and the state spends on average $2,079 per pupil less than the national average. There also were predictions that the December 2011 court decision in the Lobato v. State lawsuit would hang over the 2012 session. But “Lobato” was a word that didn’t get uttered much. An amendment to fund a study of the cost of Lobato compliance was withdrawn, and a resolution urging legislative legal intervention in the case was killed. The case, of course, is on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.Legislative review 2012 Written by on May 10th, 2012. |

Download Children's Advocacy Council complete bill tracker for all 35 bills impacting Colorado’s at-risk, abused and neglected children in Colorado.