Ritter creates new office to watchdog child welfare

DENVER–Surrounded by children on the steps of the Denver Child Advocacy Center, Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a bill that creates a child welfare watchdog for the state. Senate Bill 171 , sponsored by Sen. Linda Newell, D-Denver, created a youth ombudsman to oversee the state’s embattled child protection system in which 35 children have died in the past few years.

“Before I became Governor, I spent two decades in law enforcement. I know how devastating child abuse and neglect is, not only on families, but on entire communities,” Ritter said. “As governor, I also know we have a child-welfare system that is broken.”

Ritter had called for review of the system after 13 children died in 2007.

“It’s a great day for children in Colorado,” Newell said. “Our most important responsibility is to protect those who cannot protect themselves, children. This year, we have made tremendous strides… to ensure suspected child abuse is reported and worked to strengthen the oversight of our child protection system.”

Newell noted happily that the bill passed unanimously in both houses.

The ombudsman’s office will be charged with fielding and investigating complaints filed by individuals and child welfare agencies in the state. It will also take up concerns raised by children in the system. The office will make annual reports and recommendations to the Colorado General Assembly.

The program will be funded for at least two years by gifts and donation from child advocacy groups in the state.

“We need to reexamine how the state safeguards kids in child protective services, and we need an independent authority who can resolve problems when they come up,” House sponsor Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, said. “With this bill, we’ll have that independent voice and we will improve child protection and child welfare systems across Colorado.”

Ritter signed two other child welfare bills on Friday. One requires each county’s human services department respond to reports of abuse or neglect. The other streamlines the process where venues change from county to county in abuse and neglect cases.

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