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Terry Ruckriegle: Protecting Colorado’s families

Terry Ruckriegle

Permanency, safety and well-being. Three words that carry great meaning individually, but even more so when considered together in the context of children and families served by Colorado’s child welfare system.

These words defined the mission for nearly 1,000 people who recently gathered at the First Annual Colorado Summit on Children, Youth and Families in Keystone. Many voices came together to coordinate efforts, collaborate on best practices and share the common vision of ensuring permanency, safety and well-being for all people involved in our system.

This was a landmark event in many respects. Judges, social workers, foster parents, foster youth, CASA (court-appointed special advocates) volunteers, family court facilitators, psychologists, attorneys, child welfare specialists and other professionals spent four days working together in the hope of learning from one another what it takes to truly protect Colorado’s children and families.



For the past eight years the Colorado Judicial Branch has conducted a family issues conference and for the past 17 years the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services has held a child welfare conference. These two branches of government ” judicial and executive ” haven’t always been able to coordinate training efforts designed to achieve success in fostering and preserving safe environments for these individuals.

In 2007 the Judicial Branch and Colorado Department of Human Services joined together to change this culture and began planning the 2008 Summit. The Summit fostered teamwork among individuals seeking to improve the way children are treated in their local communities. More than 230 people invested in child well-being gathered, by their community, from Mesa to Logan, Larimer to Alamosa, into 21 local multi-disciplinary teams. These teams confronted difficult community issues: the scarcity of resources, the prevalence of drug addiction and the reality of children being harmed just to name a few. The teams sometimes agreed, sometimes disagreed on the solutions; but they united in the belief that working together on an ongoing basis would promote efforts to effect substantive, sustainable change.

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The Summit was honored to have Colorado Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, Gov. Bill Ritter, Colorado Rep. Debbie Stafford and other dignitaries address the audience, and support the collaborative efforts. Their presence symbolized the type of partnership among the executive, legislative and judicial branches and the community that is needed to improve the permanency, safety and well-being outcomes for all of Colorado’s children and families.

The Summit broke down jurisdictional barriers and enabled the professionals gathered in Keystone to engage in open dialogue and share ideas and criticisms; but most importantly to work together and build better relationships.

Participants came away with insight into state, county and local initiatives that are enhancing the well-being of children and families. Clinical and legal strategies for strengthening families were merged. More than mere policy statements, action plans were established. This conference set the foundation for great things to come in Colorado’s communities. Next year, we all look forward to making even more progress.



Terry Ruckriegle is the chief judge of the Fifth Judicial District.


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