Denver can’t find background checks for child welfare caseworkers, auditor finds

Denver over the frozen Ferril Lake in City Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Denver Human Services doesn’t have records of background and qualification checks for dozens of employees who investigate child abuse and neglect, according to a city audit.

The department is confident that all of the child welfare employees passed criminal background checks and other requirements, but it has failed to keep documentation in some cases, according to a spokesperson.

The office of Denver auditor Tim O’Brien reviewed a sample of 60 people who had entered their current job in 2015 or 2016 and found 57 percent of their records were incomplete. A third were missing documentation of background checks, while others were missing proof of qualifications, among other records.

There was no clear policy about how and when these documents should be saved, according to the auditor’s report, and there was confusion about who was responsible for making sure that new hires and promotions meet the requirements.

DHS has promised to review how it conducts and records background and qualification checks.

Julie Smith, a spokesperson for Denver Human Services, said that the department is confident that all of the welfare staffers did pass background checks — it’s just that the department didn’t necessarily keep the documentation.

“It is a records retention issue and we are confident we have corrected,” she wrote in a statement to Denverite. “…(W)e require annual checks of all child welfare staff. We go above and beyond all state, federal and local requirements for background checks.”

The report also questioned the implementation of a new program that is meant to protect young children. After a child died following abuse in 2015, Mayor Michael Hancock ordered research and action.

One of the results was a policy requiring that caseworkers always investigate reports of abuse or neglect if children under 5 are in the home. However, a survey of DHS staffers showed that only 32 percent could accurately describe the new policy.

Denver Human Services leadership has agreed to do more documentation to assess and improve the policy.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.