DENVER - Denver Mayor Michael Hancock this week said the city's Human Services department will "tighten the reins" after an ongoing CALL7 investigation revealed that department employees had placed children with sex offenders, failed to properly complete hundreds of background checks, and falsified child safety records in the case of a two-month-old child's death.
"As we go forward, there may be some new opportunities identified to even do a better job of tracking," Hancock told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.
He said DHS Director Penny May, who acknowledged in July that she had no previous experience in child and family services, is already making needed changes.
"They are at this very moment developing that strategy to make sure they're able to track and tighten the reins," Hancock said, "But immediately, upon this this tragedy occurring, her supervisors, her caseworkers, got together, and began the process of making sure that the current procedures in place, that they are following them."
But the mayor offered no specifics regarding the department's current tracking procedures, or any plans to improve them. And sources familiar with DHS practices say, since the CALL7 investigation revealed systemic flaws in the department's supervision of caseworkers and the tracking of their work, no new procedures have been implemented for caseworkers or supervisors to ensure similar mistakes will be caught in the future.
In one case, DHS is now facing a lawsuit after placing a 12-year-old boy in the custody of his father, who was a registered sex offender. The department eventually found the father sexually abused the boy during that placement, and the CALL7 investigation found serious lapses in the process that should have worked to ensure the boy's safety.
In another case, a caseworker is now facing criminal charges of forgery, tampering with evidence, and official misconduct, after the CALL7 investigation revealed she did not visit the family of Natalee Skinner-Hurst as assigned. The infant was killed two months after her birth; her mother is charged with her murder. But even weeks after Natalee's death, DHS denied the CALL7 reports on the case, before finally admitting to "serious inconsistencies" nearly two months later.
"Were mistakes made in this case?" Ferrugia asked Hancock.
"Absolutely, mistakes were made," he said. "We have identified where the mistakes were made, the goal is to get better. That's the whole idea."
But Hancock said he did not plan to order an outside review of Denver Human Services, claiming he is confident that May is addressing his questions.
"'Tell me what you're doing to hold people accountable? How did you communicate with your supervisors?' So my regular briefing with Penny May, I'm understanding exactly what she's going through to correct the situation and make sure it doesn't happen again. And they have done that," he said.
While the Mayor said he is confident in the DHS administration, state officials clearly have concerns. The Colorado Department of Human Services reviewed fingerprint checks in Denver and across the state in response to the CALL7 investigation, and is now launching a second review focused on the department's casework. Meanwhile, the attorney representing the then-12-year-old boy has called on the state's Child Protection Ombudsman to begin an additional investigation into the department.