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Opinion: An open letter to child protection and human services staff everywhere

Thank you for coming to work today. Like many of us, you woke up this week and saw a tragedy unfolding. The world as we know it altered – off course – leaving thousands of people without basic food, shelter and health care.

Like many of us you were scared. But you showed up anyway to care for Colorado’s children and families during this time of crisis.

You don’t know me, but you may have heard of my office. Every day the Office of Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman bears witness to your work.

Stephanie Villafuerte, Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman

While our roles often look different, we all work toward the same goal. Which is why I’m reaching out to thank you for all you do to protect our children and strengthen our families every day, but especially today, when the uncertainty of this crisis is overwhelming and people need you more than ever.

On a “normal day” you are the first responders to abused and neglected children. Today, as other social systems are failing, you are the ones holding the safety net together – tightly and with both hands. You are meticulously working to ensure children are safe, families are fed, health care is available and the most vulnerable among us are taken care of. Like so many other first responders — doctors, nurses, police officers — you remain on the front lines responding to the calls for help — silent heroes answering the call of humanity. 

It’s hard to believe that only two weeks ago the lives of Coloradans, as well as millions of people around the world, would be devastated by the proliferation of the COVID-19 virus.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

For none is this truer than for Colorado children and families already living at the margins. Low-income families, foster families, adoptive families, the elderly and of course our youngest citizens — Colorado children.

During the past several days, I’ve learned of your bravery, sacrifice and your struggles as you maintain the safety net for Colorado children and families.

I’ve learned of your perseverance, working tirelessly and round the clock to process thousands of new applications for food, cash and medical assistance.

I’ve heard of your dedication, responding in-person to child abuse calls without gloves, hand sanitizer or masks. I’ve been awed by the ingenuity of caseworkers wearing homemade masks and washing their hands at their cars, using bars of soap and water bottles.

I’m overwhelmed by the devotion you’ve shown to our elderly population, working to provide guidance and respond to concerns regarding their care and needs in the face of this virus.   

What many citizens don’t know and what many will never need to know, is that the Colorado human service system works well. It is quietly, diligently and constantly working to protect families and children most of us will never know.

The work you do is hard and often thankless. But today, as you venture out once more, myself and my staff – on behalf of all Coloradans – thank you.

Stephanie Villafuerte is Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman.

Rising Sun