Computer Issues At Colorado’s Child Protection Services Are Putting Kids At Risk

Problems with Colorado's $25.3 million overhaul of its child protection computer system are putting children at risk and the state is not acting urgently enough to fix it, county workers said.

Members of the Colorado Human Services Directors Association told state officials in an Oct. 19 letter that problems with the system "are crippling our work."

The letter said the system, which was rolled out in late July, crashes repeatedly and does not accurately assess and record the level of danger children face, The Denver Post reported Thursday.

Staffers say other shortfalls require workers to take longer to complete assessments that help them determine whether children should be removed from a troubled home.

"I'm most worried about child safety and something falling through the cracks," said Dan Makelky, director of the Douglas County Department of Human Services and president of the county directors association. "I don't think there is a choice. This has to get fixed. We need some urgency from the state."

Colorado has county-based child protection programs and workers rely on the computer system to learn whether a family has a history of reported abuse in other areas of the state.

"And if the system goes down, they're flying blind in terms of making critical decisions about a child's safety," Makelky said.

Reggie Bicha, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, and Suma Nallapati, Colorado's secretary of technology have said they "are moving expeditiously" to address persistent problems.

David McCurdy, the chief technological officer in the governor's office of information technology, said the new system eventually will yield benefits that reduce red tape and that updates planned next year will help create a more seamless experience. He noted the state is developing workarounds for bugs that have been reported.

"Change is always a painful thing, but the state will be in a much better place as the system gets fixed," McCurdy said.

Julie Krow, the executive director of human services in El Paso County, said the upgraded system doesn't always correctly score risk assessments. At times, high risk assessments show up as moderate risk, "which could potentially end up with a child being harmed."

The system is used by about 6,000 public officials and integrates with 11 other state systems that track child abuse and neglect cases, provider licenses, children in the youth corrections system, foster and adoptive services and data required to measure program effectiveness and adherence with government safety standards.

The modernization of the computer system was a key part of reforms promised by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2012 after The Denver Post and 9News reviewed the cases of 72 children whose families or caregivers were known to the state's child protection system before their deaths. The investigation found a lack of coordination between county and state officials, funding inequities and overburdened workers.