By Senator Gail Schwartz
April is child abuse prevention month, and it reminds me that our communities are next in line after families in protecting children and ensuring they have the best start in life. The 2013 report called Kids Count in Colorado provides vital statistics regarding the well-being of our children. This type of data is critical to creating and shaping policy to create the most effective programs to best serve our communities. We all agree that protecting children and investing in them at a young age will benefit them as they grow up to become successful, happy adults. This month, I am supporting a range of legislation aimed at helping the children of my district achieve their potential.
There has been a variety of bills this session that work to protect well-being of children in Colorado. For example, HB13-1271 will set up a statewide hotline to report child abuse and neglect. Reporting and preventing abuse is critical because of the lifelong impacts abuse has on children. Since 2007, more than 175 children have died as a result of abuse and neglect. Our current patchwork of reporting methods has resulted in too many vulnerable children not receiving critical resources. If passed, the statewide hotline bill would ensure that family and neighbors would be able to call one number and reach a live person to report a child in danger, no matter where he or she is in the state.
Another bill, HB13-1117, seeks to align early childhood services to help keep kids and families from falling through the cracks. Currently, many of the voluntary services that serve Colorado children and families are housed in several different state agencies. By streamlining enrollment processes and program administration into one place — the Office of Early Childhood — our young children will have better access to the investments they need to grow up strong.
Two bills regarding the well-being of children in our state have already passed both the House of Representatives and Senate and are on their way to the governor’s desk. The first bill, SB13-163, continues the Colorado Infant Hearing Advisory Committee. The committee provides recommendations on guidelines for newborn hearing screenings and best practices for hospitals, audiologists, early interventionists, and physicians. Second, Governor Hickenlooper recently signed SB13-008, which stabilizes taxpayer savings by eliminating the three-month waiting period for the Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+). This bipartisan reform provides continuity of health care coverage for Colorado kids and avoids gaps in coverage. Nearly 19% of all Colorado children, and 28% of kids in Senate District 5, are not currently enrolled but are eligible for coverage either through CHP+ or Medicaid.
Currently 11.5% of children in our district lack any form of medical insurance. As a result, SB13-200 also seeks to expand Medicaid eligibility, and bring the state in alignment with new federal requirements. This bill would extend health insurance to more than 160,000 uninsured Colorado parents and adults. Research shows that when parents are insured, they are more likely to have their kids insured too—and use that health coverage appropriately for preventive care like annual check-ups and immunizations. By expanding coverage for adults, this would also be a big step forward for covering all kids in Colorado.
Protecting the welfare of Colorado’s children extends beyond the efforts of the legislature. With April designated as child abuse prevention month, this is a time to remember that we are all responsible for the well-being of the children in our communities, and one person can make a difference. If you have any concerns about a child, you can anonymously call the Child Protection Ombudsman at 303.864.5111 or visit http://www.protectcoloradochildren.org/.