The Office of Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman opened its phone lines to Colorado citizens in 2011. Today, nearly a decade after receiving its first call from a citizen, the CPO has connected with more than 4,800 citizens, stakeholders and legislators with concerns or questions about Colorado’s child protection system. Since its inception, the CPO has worked to address these concerns and questions and to serve citizens who were unable to find answers or resolutions elsewhere. During the past 10 years, the CPO has undergone significant change, including its operating structure, physical location and even its logo. But the mission of the agency has remained constant: To serve children and families and ensure the state’s complex child protection system consistently provides high quality services to every child, family and community in Colorado.
During the past decade the CPO has kept pace with increasing call volumes. The agency has heard from citizens in each of Colorado’s 64 counties. The CPO has heard from parents who are confused about the handling of their child welfare case. Healthcare workers have shared frustrations about children being admitted to emergency rooms instead of receiving appropriate behavioral health care. Foster youth have shared their fears of being moved to a new home without notice. Attorneys call concerned about the physical safety of youth residing in a Division of Youth Services’ youth center.
No two calls are ever the same. Each call has driven the agency to expand and refine its services – services that more and more Coloradans utilize each year. During Fiscal Year 2019-2020, the CPO opened a record setting 725 cases. In fact, the CPO has seen a 48 percent increase in cases during the past six months alone.
The CPO has also worked over the past decade to keep pace with the growing number and complexity of child protection issues throughout Colorado. The CPO has hired more staff, forged more partnerships and issued recommendations to ensure a brighter future for Colorado’s children, youth and families. What began as three-person agency contracted under the Colorado Department of Human Services, has grown into an eight-person independent agency. During any given week, the CPO connects with up to 10 child serving agencies – including law enforcement, child welfare departments, educators and medical professionals – to ask questions and resolve citizen concerns, while also noting areas of practice and policy that may benefit from improvements. And since its transition into an independent agency, the CPO has released numerous reports offering unique insights into these areas.
The CPO’s work continuously culminates into regulatory and legislative reforms for Coloradans. But the agency also has a prominent presence at the national level. The CPO has become a leader among national ombudsman offices in developing initiatives and impactful practices. Members of the CPO team have presented the agency’s work on several national platforms, including the United States Ombudsman Association (USOA) and the American Bar Association (ABA). Additionally, Child Protection Ombudsman Stephanie Villafuerte serves in several key leadership roles for several national organizations, including the USOA, the ABA and the National Association of Counsel for Children.
Here, at this ten-year mark, the CPO is particularly celebratory of how it connects with citizens and shares its work. To provide citizens with consistent and comprehensive information, the CPO spends significant time and resources implementing outreach and educational efforts. Of particular note is the CPO’s website. Redesigned in 2019, the CPO’s website now offers up-to-date and easily accessible information about the CPO’s services – with specialized content for youth, materials published in Spanish and the ability to translate web content into over 100 languages.
While the CPO has made significant strides during its first 10 years, there is still more to be done.
To ensure that citizens, stakeholders and legislators are receiving timely updates about the CPO’s work, during 2021 the agency is further connecting with the public regarding issues they are seeing within the child protection system. Child Protection Ombudsman Villafuerte will be sharing insights into her work and the work of the CPO to break through outdated perceptions that prevent the public from seeing and understanding the people who receive services and the people working to deliver those services. Via monthly blog posts, Child Protection Ombudsman Villafuerte will share stories and experiences that will help to humanize the system and foster conversations about people and progress. Stay up to date with her blog by joining the CPO’s newsletter here and read her most recently entry here.
During the past decade, the CPO has been asked to provide more frequent insight regarding what the agency is seeing. To respond to this feedback, the CPO is committing to publishing monthly Issue Spotters that will highlight and discuss the work of the CPO. To kick this off, the CPO will launch a series of Issue Spotters in February to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted its work and the child protection system.
It has been a privilege to serve the children and families of Colorado for the past 10 years. Each case, each issue and each citizen to contact the CPO has helped shape the agency and the work it does. We are grateful for every stakeholder, legislator and community organization that has worked with the CPO during the past decade and we look forward to continuing to work with you to improve how the state serves children and families. Finally, we are indebted to the citizens of Colorado – the parents, grandparents, children, youth and families – who allowed the CPO into their lives and provided the agency an invaluable education about their lived experience in the child protection system. Their time, courage and insight are the catalyst for so many positive changes.
Thank you for joining us on this journey. We look forward to the next 10 years.
The CPO Team