2023 Leg Session, Exclusives, Gold Dome, Politics, Uncategorized

Overbeck: HB 1160 brings needed due process to child abuse accusations

Nobody really knew the enormous power of county child welfare agencies to take kids away from their parents until an Arapahoe County Department of Human Services (DHS) case worker named Robin Niceta fraudulently accused Aurora City Council member Danielle Jurinsky of sexual abuse of her two-year-old son. This vicious move, which was proven to be a personal vendetta by Niceta because of a negative remark Jurinsky made about Niceta’s lover (then-Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson) has thus far resulted in $3 million in civil damages and a pending criminal trial against the disgraced social worker

But that’s not usually the case. Too often, parents lose their kids over unfounded charges, and are placed in Colorado’s automated child welfare (TRAILS)  system as a suspected abuser. This label can haunt them for the rest of their lives, according to Colorado State Rep. Gabe Evans, a Republican from Weld County who has introduced House Bill 23-1160 to give parents a fighting chance to challenge the process. “People can be labeled a child abuser even if there was never a trial or a criminal charge,” says Evans. “This means they can be excluded from employment as a teacher or childcare worker, from coaching their child’s sports team, and even from placement of their own grandkids in their home because that terrible label sticks with them for decades.”

According to a study by the Parental Rights Foundation, a disproportionate number of parents/caregivers of minority children are targeted by social workers with abuse allegations. In Colorado, this amounts to over twice as many black children as their proportion in the child population. “This could really be illegal discrimination and racial bias, which is a Constitutional issue,” Evans points out.

When Evans was a sergeant with the Arvada police department, one of his officers got a call from a social worker who wanted him to arrest a father for making his child do jumping jacks. “My officer just laughed,” recalls Evans. “This dad’s 14-year-old daughter had been cutting school, so he had her do 10 minutes of jumping jacks. Unbelievably, the social worker called this ‘mistreating a child’ and said it was ‘forced labor and physical abuse.’”

The officer laughed, but the social services case worker was perfectly serious. And that’s the problem. “There are similar cases in which a case worker goes way beyond common sense in what amounts to persecution of parents,” Evans charges. “If parents try to fight them in court, it can take years and is very expensive, eating up money they don’t have especially if they are low-income and financially strapped as so many are now.”

Currently, social services must obtain a court order to remove a child from the family, but Evans says the deck is stacked since social services is the investigating agency that presents “evidence” to the judge.

Representative Evans’ bill would require the department of human services to provide a written notice of the opportunity for a hearing before adding a person suspected of child abuse or neglect to the publicly available child abuse registry.  When a hearing is requested, the bill requires an administrative law judge (ALJ) to contact the parties to schedule the hearing no later than 120 days after it is requested.

The Niceta case, though bizarre, is not unusual, according to a $50 million class action lawsuit filed against the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services and others on behalf of over 40 families with personal horror stories. They claim their families were torn apart by child-protective workers they say fabricated evidence and provided false sworn testimony. According to an article in the Gazette, “the lawsuit alleges the Arapahoe County social workers regularly removed children from homes that posed no risks and put them in peril by placing them in unsafe environments.”

In one of the most disturbing cases, an infant was removed from a mother who the social worker believed used drugs, although her drug tests were negative. Nevertheless, her infant son was taken to a foster home and later suffered serious bruises and sores from caregivers there.

“I hope to get Democrats on board to help right some of these wrongs against innocent parents, especially minorities,” Evans says.

Joy Overbeck is a Colorado-based journalist who has been published at Complete Colorado, Townhall, American Thinker, The Federalist, The Washington Times, and elsewhere. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @joyoverbeck1


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