Mayor proposes big hiring for child welfare team

Posted at 6:10 PM, Sep 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-14 20:10:35-04

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's budget proposal for the upcoming year includes funds to hire 51.5 new child welfare employees, after several Denver Human Services errors led to the deaths of children last year.

Hancock's proposal would allocate approximately $3.6 million for those new hires, which works out to average salaries of nearly $70,000.  That money comes from a proposed total of a $1.26 billion General Fund budget for the city.

The proposed DHS expansion comes in the wake 7NEWS investigations into the deaths of three children. Investigator John Ferrugia found that when 2-month-old Natalee Skinner-Hurst was beaten to death, a DHS intake caseworker never visited the family and lied about it. At the time she had 25 open cases, twice the agency average, raising questions about whether she was properly supervised.

D'Anthony Herron was also 2-months-old when he was beaten to death. Ferrugia found that his father, now charged with murder, was given the child at birth even though there were multiple complaints about Herron to DHS, including, a violent history and mental illness.

In the latest case of 23-month-old Javion Johnson, who died after being beaten and burned, Ferrugia found DHS had six previous complaints about the family, but had "screened out" the referrals and never checked on the family.

Following those fatal errors, Hancock replaced the leader of the department and also formed a “Child Safety-Net Impact Team" to study the issues. One of the results of that study includes plans to train all city employees who interact with children to identify and report signs of child abuse and neglect. 

"The measure of a city is how it helps its most vulnerable," Hancock's office wrote in a summary of the 2016 budget plan "The budget proposal calls for additional child welfare case workers to equip the city with more eyes and ears to keep Denver’s children who are at risk of abuse or neglect safe."

In addition to the money proposed for DHS, Hancock's General Fund budget plan includes $24 million for reform in the Sheriff Department, which also suffered through a tumultuous year, and $1.4 million for body-warn police cameras.

Other proposals:

  • $7.1 million for the city’s transportation system 
  • $8 million for affordable housing to create hundreds of new units
  • $5.5 million for the new Solutions Center and the expansion of homeless shelter space and $2.9 million for permanent supportive housing
  • $2 million to increase staffing in the Department of Community Planning and Development