DENVER, Colo. — Appellate delay in child welfare cases is a complex issue that has existed for decades. A set of reforms instituted in 2016 were designed to make significant improvements to this system but also contributed to cases taking longer to resolve on appeal.
Having reached a crisis point in recent years, the Colorado Supreme Court commissioned the Child Welfare Appeals Workgroup (Workgroup) in 2018 to ensure appeals in relinquishment, adoption and dependency and neglect cases are resolved within six months, as set forth by the General Assembly (§ 19‑1‑109(3), C.R.S. 2020).
The Group’s charge was to “study, develop, and recommend to the Supreme Court practices, policies, and procedures to implement [statutory] policy goals . . . and to improve the quality of appellate litigation and court handling of appeals in relinquishment, adoption, and dependency and neglect cases.”
The Workgroup’s report was finalized and submitted to the Supreme Court at the end of April 2021 and the Court recently agreed with the recommendations contained therein. Many of the recommendations have already been adopted by the appellate courts.
“We invited stakeholders to join us in examining the delays at each stage of juvenile court and appellate proceedings and to discover opportunities for improvement,” Court of Appeals Judge and Workgroup Chair David M. Furman said. “We assessed the role of incomplete juvenile court records and inconsistent quality of appellate briefing in contributing to appellate delay.”
The stakeholders joined together to share ideas and discuss efforts to ensure quick and efficient handling of cases to best serve some of the most vulnerable people in Colorado. The stakeholder involvement worked to ensure a balanced report was developed and submitted.
“To improve the quality of appellate litigation, the Workgroup developed recommendations to propagate best practices and expand training of practitioners, judicial officers, and student attorneys,” Judge Furman said. “The Workgroup also produced a successful training program on appellate advocacy for juvenile law practitioners that may serve as a model for future annual training.”
Experientially diverse professionals comprise the 12-member Workgroup with members appointed for two-year terms. They are the Honorable Richard L. Gabriel, Colorado Supreme Court liaison to the Workgroup; Honorable David M. Furman, Colorado Court of Appeals, Workgroup Chair; Polly Brock, Colorado Court of Appeals Clerk of Court and Court Executive; Sheri Danz, Deputy Director of the Colorado Office of the Child’s Representative; Honorable Katherine R. Delgado, District Court Judge, Seventeenth Judicial District; Laura Eibsen, Assistant City Attorney, Denver City Attorney’s Office, Colorado County Attorneys Association; Korey Elger, Permanency Manager of the Division of Child Welfare, Colorado Department of Human Services; Ruchi Kapoor, Appellate Director of the Office of Respondent Parents’ Counsel (2016 to 2020); Honorable Ann Gail Meinster, Presiding Juvenile Court Judge, First Judicial District; Gretchen Russo, Judicial and Legislative Administrator, Colorado Department of Human Services; Shelden Spotted Elk, Director for Indian Child Welfare Programs until 2021, Casey Family Programs; Jack Trope, Senior Director for Indian Child Welfare Programs, Casey Family Programs; and Alison Young, Colorado’s Court Improvement Program Coordinator until 2020.
Following its review of the report, the Supreme Court has authorized the continuance of the Workgroup for two more years. As more study and work is needed in this important area, the Court authorized the Workgroup to:
- Monitor the implementation and results of these recommendations and determine if other areas contribute to appellate delay.
- Provide annual appellate training commendations, provide annual training, and study additional areas for improvement.
- Study additional opportunities to reduce delays in child welfare appeals.