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Colorado Child Abuse Reporting Laws Should Be Tightened, Watchdog Says

Colorado’s laws on mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse cases should be tightened, the state’s child welfare ombudsperson said on Wednesday in a new report released in the wake of Olivia’s death. Glove, 7 years old, of suspected medical abuse.

The state’s “outdated” and “poorly executed” mandatory reporting laws should be amended to clarify the role employers play in the reporting process, to set a concrete timeline within which suspected abuse should be reported to the government. State and to demand standardized training for all professionals who are legally obligated to report abuse, recommended child protection ombudsperson Stephanie Villafuerte in the 7-page brief.

“For Colorado laws to be effective and for children to be protected, the law must be clear as to who should report, so that valuable information does not fall through the cracks and people who do not report no suspected cases of child abuse can be held responsible. ”, We read in the report.

Olivia Gant’s death in 2017 highlighted long-standing “fault lines” in state laws on reporting child abuse, Villafuerte said in an interview. Prior to her death, Olivia was a long-time patient at Colorado Children’s Hospital, where authorities believe the girl’s mother, Kelly Turner, faked Olivia’s illnesses and manipulated doctors and nurses to that they perform unnecessary medical procedures. Turner has been charged with first degree murder and is awaiting trial.

A Denver Post investigation this spring found that some doctors and nurses at the Colorado Children’s Hospital feared that Olivia was being medically abused by her mother, but the hospital did not report their suspicions to the Department of Human Services. State that more than a year after Olivia died, despite the state’s whistleblowing law, which requires anyone suspecting abuse to report “immediately” to law enforcement or the state. .

Children’s medical providers did no such thing. Instead, the hospital investigated the concerns internally and its internal child protection team decided that there was no need to report provider concerns to outside authorities, the Post found. This process appeared to follow a 2016 hospital policy, which directed employees to report abuse issues to the hospital’s internal review team, rather than directly to external authorities.

It’s not an uncommon approach, Villafuerte said. Many institutions, such as hospitals and schools, require employees to report suspected abuse to an internal chain of command. This type of “corporate report” can help establishments keep track of reports, provide employees with the time and assistance they need to write reports while they are on the clock, and reduce duplicate reports. But it can also cause problems and delays, Villafuerte said, especially if a supervisor stops or discourages employees from reporting suspected abuse, or if the internal process is cumbersome or time consuming.

“The role of an institution is not clear,” she said. “Are they an intermediary for information or are they an arbiter of this information? And that’s why other states have created laws. To make it clear that if you have an (internal) process, you must beware of persuasion. “

Colorado’s current mandatory reporting law requires individuals in nearly 40 professions, ranging from veterinarians to pastors, to report suspected abuse to the state or law enforcement.

But the law is silent on institutional reporting, which has allowed various employers to come up with a mishmash of internal policies for employees who attempt to report abuse. Some employees come away with the impression that reporting their personal suspicions to a supervisor fulfills their legal obligation to report abuse, but this is not clear in the law.

Institutional relationships occur, Villafuerte said, without any safeguards in the law on how they should be treated.

“If you look at other state laws, which I have done, it is very clear that as an employee is accountable to a supervisor or a chief administrator, the role of the establishment to this stage is to support the employee, not to change their mind, ”she said.