February 4, 2015

Child safety bill to strengthen background check rules moves forward at Colorado State Capitol

2-4-2015 Colorado:

DENVER - State legislators moved Wednesday to tighten background check requirements for all 64 county human services agencies, in response to an ongoing CALL7 investigation that exposed serious child safety failures in Denver and across Colorado.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved SB15-087, which would broaden the type of offenses for which potential caretakers can be rejected. If it becomes law, the list would include misdemeanor sex crimes or sexual conduct.

The bill also codifies the list of background checks each human services agency is required to complete, including searches of court records, sex offender registries, and national crime databases.

In addition, the proposal would grant access to critical background check materials to Guardians Ad Litem, or court-appointed attorneys, who represent children in placement. Surprisingly, those attorneys cannot currently access criminal histories to verify whether proper checks have been completed.

The issue was first brought to light when CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia found Denver Human Services had placed four children with a convicted sex offender, and then with a woman convicted of child abuse.

Those reports prompted the Colorado Department of Human Services to launch a state-wide audit of fingerprint and background checks, which found only 53 percent of the required checks completed in a random sample of Denver cases. Among 450 cases sampled in all Colorado counties, only 65 percent of checks were complete.

Dennis Goodwin, the state's Child Protection Ombudsman, called Wednesday's vote a critical step forward.

"If someone had a felony sex assault arrest but a misdemeanor conviction, children could be placed there," Goodwin said. "And we want to clean that up."

Goodwin said giving Guardians Ad Litem access to criminal background information will help ensure that the juvenile court knows the status of background checks. The bill would also hold judges accountable for making sure those checks are properly conducted.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will now hear the bill, before it can move on to a vote in the full Senate. ..Source.. by John Ferrugia, Sandra Barry

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