The Colorado Department of Human Services said Tuesday it will immediately redeploy at least 21 staff members to review the deaths of 12 children last year to see if there are common factors and "systemic issues" in the state's child welfare system.
"Child fatalities occurring in Colorado over the past year lead me to believe that a comprehensive review of how we assess and address risk to children is necessary," said CDHS Executive Director Karen L. Beye, in a news release.
The employees will complete 11 pending child fatality reviews, due by February, and then compare.
There were 12 deaths in 2007 that required a review, but the review of Chandler Grafner, a boy was allegedly starved to death by his guardians, was completed and released in September 2007.
What prompted the review was the fact that six of the deaths occurred in December, said CDHS spokeswoman Liz McDonough.
She said the number of child fatalities in December are "unacceptable."
"They need close examination and swift examination," she said.
The cases are:
Luz Valdez Died: Dec. 30, 2007 Born: Sept. 4, 2007 Age: 3 months County: Denver
Ezra Sprowes Died: Dec. 28, 2007 Born: July 6, 2007 Age: 5 months County: Adams
"Baby Boy" Campbell Died: Dec. 24, 2007 Born: Dec. 24, 2007 Age: Less than 1 day old County: Teller
Rashad Maxey Died: Dec. 7, 2007 Born: March 17, 2007 Age: 9 months County: Arapahoe
Zoe Garcia Died: Dec. 6, 2007 Born: Nov. 10, 2000 Age: 7 years County: Weld
Adrian Ruybal Died: Dec. 4, 2007 Born: Nov. 8, 2007 Age: 1 month County: Phillips
Alize Vick Died: Oct. 10, 2007 Born: May 28, 2005 Age: 2 years County: El Paso
Kayla Dutcher Died: Oct. 6, 2007 Born: Sept. 17, 2002 Age: 5 years County: El Paso
Neveah Gallegos Died: Sept. 24, 2007 Born: Aug. 1, 2004 Age: 3 years County: Denver
Jesse Weaver Died: July 8, 2007 Born: Aug. 6, 1995 Age: 12 years County: Lincoln
Loreyna Barea Died: March 9, 2007 Born: Aug. 7, 1999 Age: 7 County: Weld
Chandler Grafner (Review Complete) Died: May 6, 2007 Born: April 12, 2000 Age: 7 years old County: Denver
"That is not okay," said Sandy Younger, Grafner's grandmother. "It is not okay that that many children are victimized and fall through the cracks like Chandler did."
The task force would look at the 12 cases and identify commonalities between the cases, the caseloads of the social worker, case worker qualifications and training.
Beye has redeployed 21 of the 35 people in the child welfare division and asked that teams be developed to include other divisions of the department as necessary, such as the Division of Mental Health and the Developmental Disabilities Division.
"The review teams will develop a matrix of factors to be examined in order to ensure that each case is reviewed consistently and yields information that can further efforts to identify commonalities across cases," a release said.
The group will also look at state rules enacted in 2006 and 2007 governing child welfare practice.
"Social Services were involved somehow with these children," said Younger. "Whether it was neglect or abuse, the system is failing these children." "There are 12 dead, how many more are going to die before they start fixing this system," she said.
Based on the findings of the review, the department will develop both a short-term and a long-term plan.
The short-term plan will include any improvements that can be implemented within 90 days. The long-term plan will include any steps to improve child protection in Colorado that may require statutory changes and/or budget proposals.
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