KMGH News (Denver, Colo.). 2008--excerpts, Failing the Children: Deadly Mistakes


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Betacam SX
Created: 2008

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KMGH News (Denver, Colo.). 2008--excerpts, Failing the Children: Deadly Mistakes
Summary: "In May 2007, authorities found 7-year old Chandler Grafner starved to death in a closet. He showed signs of long-term abuse. His guardians, Jon Phillips and Sarah Berry, were convicted of murder.

"In covering the story, KMGH-TV investigative reporter John Ferrugia attempted to determine the extent of the Denver Department of Human Services' involvement with the family. Department officials, citing privacy laws, refused to release any information. Despite DDHS stonewalling, Ferrugia and the KMGH investigative team, beginning with this initial story, consistently obtained internal documents to expose a system fraught with incompetence, lack of oversight, poor management and ineffective training? In short, a system that left children at risk.

"In reports that have, so far, spanned 18 months, the KMGH-TV investigative team has used internal documents and confidential sources to highlight systemic mistakes that failed to prevent the deaths of at least four children. We found one supervisor who had signed off on mistakes in three of the four cases.

"The Department's initial denials began to melt away under a barrage of investigative stories, and eventually Denver's mayor committed to an outside investigation and review of his Department of Human Services.

"While the review was underway, two more children died. The KMGH-TV team exposed how department officials had made fatal errors and failed to make needed changes to prevent the deaths. Since the Denver County Human services agency is the largest in the state and is funded through the Colorado Department of Human Services, the KMGH-TV investigation prompted a statewide review of all county practices. That investigation then expanded to a statewide probe of 13 child deaths.

"As independent, outside reviewers were preparing a scathing report that confirmed KMGH stories, the director of the Denver Department of Human Services resigned. When the state report was made public, the director of the Colorado Department of Human Services admitted that the deaths of Chandler Grafner and 12 other children were preventable. State officials found many county caseworkers statewide had not received the basic training for their jobs.

"In April 2008, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed legislation and executive orders allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars for caseworker training, increasing state oversight of county agencies and empanelling a child welfare commission to recommend systemic changes by early 2009. Meanwhile in Denver, the Department of Human Services announced the hiring of forty new caseworkers and restructuring of the department.

"In total, the 18 month KMGH-TV investigation has forced profound and comprehensive changes to the system that cares for the health and welfare of Colorado's most vulnerable children. Our investigation has made children safer and the human services system more accountable.

"And, our investigation continues...

"[Please note: The first story in our entry aired on KMGH-TV June 28, 2007. Peabody Director's waiver to include initial stories enclosed in packet.]"--2008 Peabody Awards entry form.

Corporate Producers: KMGH (Television station : Denver, Colo.)

Persons Appearing: John Ferrugia (Investigative reporter)

Broadcast Date: June 28, 2007 - September 28, 2008