Posted by: sanyaandersenvie | January 11, 2010

Denver Post: Colorado’s number of shame: 179 kids killed from abuse, neglect over seven years

This column appeared in the Denver Post on January 11, 2010.

By Bill Johnson
Denver Post Columnist

One-hundred seventy-nine. That is the number I cannot seem to shake.

It is a number I learned last Friday at a luncheon meeting of child advocates who called together members of the media so they might process the number, appreciate it and tell others of it.

It is the number of children in Colorado killed as a result of abuse and neglect between 2000 and 2007, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Every Child Matters Education Fund.

It is a staggering total given we are talking of, well, Colorado. And it was only the nastiest headline in a series of head- scratchingly awful stories this small group told on that afternoon.

A quick sampling:

In fiscal year 2008-09, the state’s 64 counties received about 76,000 reports of child abuse or neglect.

Imagine this the way I do: every last seat inside Invesco Field at Mile High occupied by an abused or neglected Colorado kid.

Of the 76,000 reports, one in three on average was investigated by the counties. And of those, about 22 percent resulted in the county providing child-care services.

Colorado’s child-welfare system is in crisis, Shari Shink, founder and executive director of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, told me over sandwiches. Still more abused and neglected kids are fated to fall through the ever-widening cracks of the system, underfunded for years, and with new rounds of cuts coming this legislative session.

What I learned was chilling, that money and its lack is at the root of it all, that fingers can be pointed everywhere, but that the only Coloradans truly paying the price are this state’s abused and neglected children.

Only 46 percent of the state’s foster children graduate high school on average. For everyone else, the number is 86 percent.

One in five is homeless. Twenty-five percent were in prison within two years of leaving the foster-care system. Girls in foster homes are six times more likely to have a child before age 21.

It is staggering stuff, yet once you figure it couldn’t get any worse, they introduce a young man, Jordan McCurdy, 19, who spent 12 years bouncing from foster homes.

He estimates he spent time in 15 homes from age 7, when he was pulled from his home after a teacher noticed a big welt on his face from a beating, to age 16.

“That’s a lot of places,” he said, “but what does that tell you about the system?”

Things got so bad at one point, he lived on buses for six months, used convenience stores to wash up. He now has his own place and will finally graduate high school in May.

It happened only because someone stepped in and mentored him, he said.

“I now feel like a productive young man,” McCurdy said, before adding, “I feel like I’m going to cry now.”

So the question we have to ask ourselves, I think, is what kind of state do we want to be? What are our priorities?

Money is tight, granted. Yet if we can’t meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable among us, each of us should be more than ashamed of ourselves.

One-hundred, seventy-nine.

Bill Johnson writes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at 303-954-2763 or

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