Investigation into Arapahoe agency where social worker is accused of false child abuse report found no widespread problem

A state investigation of the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services, launched after one of its former caseworkers was criminally charged on allegations of falsifying a child abuse report, found no evidence of systemic safety problems in protecting children and serving families.

The report released Friday was the result of a probe that began last year by third-party consultants after an earlier review by the Colorado Department of Human Services recommended a deeper look into the practices of the county’s human services department.

On Jan. 28, 2022, former caseworker Robin Niceta, the now ex-partner of Aurora’s former police chief, accused City Councilwoman Danielle Jurinsky of sexually abusing her child via an anonymous tip, according to the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. An Arapahoe County DHS investigation found no wrongdoing by Jurinsky, who said Niceta was retaliating against her for comments Jurinksy made the prior day on a talk radio show about then-Police Chief Vanessa Wilson. A criminal investigation led to the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office filing charges against Niceta that May, and the case is ongoing.

The Colorado Department of Human Services conducted a review starting July 2022 of Niceta’s casework, and in a September report identified concerns with Niceta’s cases and supervision. The agency then worked with independent evaluators to dig deeper into the county department, reviewing assessments, outcomes and other documents over a six-month period, and conducting staff interviews.

The 63-page document released Friday concluded that there were “no pervasive agencywide practice issues that indicate systemic lapses to protect children or serve families,” “no evidence of systemic concerns of falsification of contacts,” and  “no major safety concerns related to casework, supervision, or staffing.”

It also stated that there was “no evidence of systemic concerns or falsification of contacts,” but it did note that one caseworker had been fired because of a falsification of contacts, and that four others were fired for personal or performance issues. The caseworker was not identified, but Niceta resigned her position in May.

“We never take lightly the critical role our human services employees play in protecting children and vulnerable adults,” said Carrie Warren-Gully, chair of the Arapahoe Board of County Commissioners, in a written statement. “We’re grateful to the Colorado Department of Human Services for the professional, thorough and sensitive review of our intake systems and we are gratified in the knowledge that the system works and continues to improve every day.”

Jurinsky questioned the results of the latest report, calling it a “superficial investigation” that she said feels political and contradictory to what the state released in September. She added that it appears as though the government is trying to cover its own tracks.

The councilwoman sued Niceta for slander and a judge awarded Jurinsky $3 million after Niceta failed to respond to the lawsuit. Jurinsky also sued Arapahoe County DHS and Niceta over allegations of misconduct, and at least 40 families had planned to join the case, with the goal of certifying it as a class-action lawsuit. Arapahoe County has since filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The state investigative report referred to the county and human services department’s “tumultuous times” from December 2020 to January 2021, including the aftermath of COVID, social unrest in Aurora, staff turnover and vacancies, “a frayed organizational culture with strained staff/management relationships,” and a change in police policy that made collaboration more difficult.

But the report stated that several actions have been taken over the past 18 months, despite ongoing challenges such as major leadership changes and “sustained media scrutiny.” Those changes include restructuring within the department, improved hiring and recruitment practices, implementation of a strategic plan, and providing additional support for caseworkers and oversight.

The report also identified areas of improvement for the department in its supervisions and case consultations, assessments process, and supervisor expectations.

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