Sources: Fingerprint checks not completed by Denver Department of Human Services

Child safety in question

DENVER - Children abused or neglected by their parents are removed by Denver Human Services and placed into other homes for their protection. However, a CALL7 investigation has found that state-mandated safety checks were never completed in Denver homes, where children were placed with other family members.

Fingerprint checks are essential to verify the identity of adults in the home, and whether they have been convicted of violent crimes that would prevent them from caring for kids, including child abuse, domestic violence and even murder.

When CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia interviewed Denver Human Services Director Penny May last month, we asked about problems with background checks and fingerprinting in homes where children were placed.

"Those procedures and policies are in place and they are being followed," May told us.

But in fact, sources familiar with the issue, as well as DHS emails, tell another story.

Earlier this year, the Department suspended two caseworkers and two supervisors after they placed four children in the home of a sex offender, and then later with a person convicted of child abuse.

DHS subsequently began scrambling to review all cases where children have been placed with other family members, so-called kinship cases.

An internal DHS email from a manager dated May 22, 2014 with a subject line "Fingerprints on all open kinship cases" notes, in part:

"Can you please let me know … if we have conducted all necessary background checks/fingerprints on all currently open kinship cases?" 

"Thanks! Just trying to head off anything that might be coming our way as this background issue seems to be gaining steam."

Sources say that scores of homes where kids have been placed have never had the required FBI fingerprint check.

And lawyer Kyle Bacchus, who has sued DHS in the past for failure to protect kids, says the checks are essential to child safety.

"If you don't do the fingerprint check you can't really confirm the identity," said Bacchus. "If they're not doing the fingerprint check and they're not verifying the identity of the person they're doing a background check on, then the background check may be completely unreliable and that's the reason you have to do both."

Joe Homlar heads the Child Welfare Department at DHS which is responsible for child safety. Homlar first denied a problem, and then he wouldn't address it.

CALL7 asked Homlar, "When did you become aware that fingerprints were not being done, or had not been done, as policy demands, in this department?"

Homlar answered, "It's never been the case."

We pressed further, asking, "When did you become aware that there were cases in this department where in non-certified homes, and in certified homes, there were not fingerprints checks done?"

But Homlar would not answer the question, replying, "No system is perfect….. If something comes to my attention, through checks and balances, if something comes to my attention, we course correct."

Non-certified homes can host children for a temporary stay of up to 60 days. Certified homes are working toward permanent custody and, therefore, are subject to more scrutiny and reporting.

Sources familiar with the issue and internal emails make it clear that DHS is now trying to find out how many kids may have to be moved.

In an email on June 30th, managers were told to, "Please make a list and insure workers are following up with background checks and insure (they) have been completed and do not fall in the category to deny the placements…"

And the manager who wrote the email continued, "Please be prepared to discuss with me next week as we will need to make plans for youth that live in a home with kin that didn't pass."

Despite the evidence, DHS would not discuss the scope the problem with CALL7.

CALL7 told Homlar that sources have confirmed that both certified and non-certified homes with children did not have fingerprint checks, and since May DHS has been scrambling to get those fingerprint checks done.

Homlar replied, "What I know, John, is that there have been background checks of kin homes that if there were not fingerprints done, they need to be done."

When asked if he knew there were many cases where fingerprint checks had not been done, Homlar answered, "I have no way of knowing that there were many. I am not, I am not aware that there were many."

This weekend, Joe Homlar, emailed 7NEWS saying he may not know how many cases are involved for another week or more. But unlike the denials and talking points in his interview, in the email Homlar referred to a "review" of cases and "analysis" of results in both paper and electronic files. 

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