DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – As a Douglas County mother waits to see if she will stand trial in the death of her daughter, Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman is issuing a call to action. Kelly Turner is accused of lying about her daughter’s terminal illness.
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Seven-year-old Olivia Gant died after five years and 1,000 trips to the hospital. The coroner could not find a conclusive reason for how she died.
Olivia’s father has filed a $25 million lawsuit against Children’s Hospital Colorado, saying they failed to report child abuse.
For all the unknowns in the case, the State’s Child Protection Ombudsman Stephanie Villafuerte says, one clear takeaway is the state’s mandatory reporting law needs to change.
“There’s a lack of clarity around mandatory reporting. A lot of people don’t know they are mandatory reporters,” said Villafuerte.
Villafuerte says Olivia Gant’s story is one of several in recent years to expose weaknesses in the law. She’s issued a report calling on state lawmakers to – among other things – better define mandatory reporters.
In Gant’s case, investigators say doctors at Children’s Hospital reported suspected abuse to administrators but those reports never made it to child protective services. While doctors and nurses are mandatory reporters, hospitals are not.
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State Rep. Meg Froelich plans to introduce legislation to change that.
“What we’ve seen is that institutions are made up of individuals and when there’s a chain of command and a long hierarchy and folks are doing the right thing and bumping things up the chain…that, at every opportunity, is a chance for something to fall through the cracks,” said Froelich.
Froelich says her bill will also set up a clear timeline for reporting abuse and require training for mandatory reporters. Villafuerte says abuse is often not obvious.
“We really have stereotypes about child abuse and neglect: if see it, I’ll know it and report it. There are so many ways abuse is hidden,” said Villafuerte.
Colorado’s mandatory reporting law has been in place since the 1960’s and now includes dozens of mandatory reporters but, Villafuerte says she’s received hundreds of calls from mandatory reporters over the last five years who aren’t sure of their responsibilities.
Froelich says about 30 other states have laws that include institutions – like hospitals, schools, churches – as mandatory reporters and she will look at those laws when drafting her bill.
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She says, sadly, tragedy is often the catalyst for changes in the law, “We feel terrible about what happened Olivia and we definitely don’t want it to ever happen again. This report… is a roadmap about how can make this better and prevent this in the future.”