Pat Tessmer: Issues not addressed by Social Services, article

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— Dear Editor,

I am the director of Advocates - Crisis Support Services, a nonprofit organization that provides advocacy and services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes and traumatic incidents in Moffat County.

Included in our primary focus is advocating for the safety of all individuals. It is to that purpose that I am compelled to write this letter.

I was both confused and concerned after reading the article you ran on June 28 about the recent state review of the Moffat County Department of Social Services' Child Protection Program, or MCDSS, under the headline "Socially improving services" and the continuation page headline, "Services: Record keeping and state communication biggest areas of overhaul," as it appeared that most of the information presented in the article minimized the findings of the review conducted by the Colorado Department of Human Services, or CDHS, of MCDSS.

A review, by the way, that was initiated by concerns reported by many community members, first to MCDSS, then to Moffat County Commissioners (before the current board was seated) and then to the state after the failure of MCDSS to resolve the concerns presented at the local level.

Like many county residents, I was alarmed by the state's report: the conclusion of which stated "CDHS has concluded the MCDSS does not assure child safety and is not in compliance with the Colorado Children's Code and corresponding Colorado Department of Human Services' rules regarding child safety. Additionally, issues exist with the county department's ability to assure child permanency and well-being."

The review report lists its goal, identifies the strengths of MCDSS caseworkers' ability to the protect children, but also identifies 15 individual findings documenting the failure of MCDSS to do so.

Highlights from some of the findings related to the review goals are required by state law, but not related to state communication and record keeping include:

• MCDSS did not consistently assign reports to a caseworker for investigation of child abuse or neglect as required.

• Procedures were not in place to assure child safety. Safety assessment decision-making processes were inadequately utilized.

• Specific allegations were not consistently addressed and sufficient evidence gathering did not consistently occur so that caseworkers could make clear decisions assigning responsibility to the alleged perpetrator for the abuse or neglect.

• County operations have not achieved the federal and state requirements of child permanency and well-being in reviewed cases.

• Steps that are required by policy or statute to conduct investigations were not consistently done.

• Court processes were not being appropriately initiated or utilized. May cases are not filed with the Court. Rather, workers are encouraged to have families request voluntary services. If the family refuses the services, cases are not opened by MCDSS.

• Person interviewed indicated that the county defines the role of the child protection team as limited to determining whether investigations were timely, and failed to make additional reports and details of the reports available to the child protection team.

I was glad to read that recent reviews of MCDSS have been excellent, but record keeping and state communication getting the major overhauls?

On a whole, the findings appear to me to be the result of administrative policy and procedures, especially as the review points out that the caseworkers have the ability to keep children safe.

The quotes of county personnel that are included in the Daily Press article make the county appear as if they are minimizing the very real and documented concerns regarding the safety of children in Moffat County.

In my mind, this does not bode well for instituting meaningful changes. I would be less confused and much less concerned if the article addressed significant administrative changes.

If there are errors in the CDHS report that repudiate the findings of the initial report, than as a community member I would respectfully request that the corrected findings be published by the Daily Press or made readily available to the public as it is not only the right, but the obligation of every county resident to insist that the Child Protection Program of MCDSS assure the safety of Moffat County children without regard to political fallout, or personal or professional relationships.

Sincerely,

Pat Tessmer

Executive Director of

Advocates - Crisis Support Services

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