ORPC Seeks Comment from Families of Color Who Appeared in Front of Publicly Censured Arapahoe County District Court Judge


April 29, 2021

DENVER, Colorado – Judge Natalie Chase, whose resignation and censure was widely publicized, presided over families and children involved in the child welfare system. She had the power to remove kids from their homes, to choose their placements, and to terminate parents’ parental rights. The child welfare system has troubling origins in regulating families of color. From Native American children being stolen from their communities and forced to assimilate in Indian Boarding Schools to the epidemic of children of color aging out of foster care, the system has and continues to be marred by racism. The public censure of Judge Chase and her resignation from the bench highlights the ongoing scourge of racism that families of color face in the child welfare system.

The statement of facts in the public censure from the Colorado Supreme Court is appalling to all justice minded citizens. Imagine for a moment how much more gut wrenching they would be if she had presided over your family, most especially if yours was a family of color. The facts of the censure call into question the orders involving scores of families of color who appeared in front of Judge Chase and compound the belief of those families that the child welfare system does not give them equal justice from the start. Disappointingly, the legal system has few options to review cases from the last five years for these families.

The Office of Respondent Parents’ Counsel (ORPC) has and continues to fight for families to receive dignity and fairness in the child welfare system. The ORPC is acutely aware through our work that families of color are disproportionately impacted by this system. That disproportionate impact puts families of color at greater risk of both having their children removed from the home and of never having their children returned.

The public censure of Judge Chase brings to light what can happen behind closed courthouse doors, both from those who remain unaware of their own biases regarding families of color and from those whose overt beliefs cause them to continue to separate families of color at alarming rates. Indeed, in Judge Chase’s case, it was only the brave voices of a few who brought her conduct to light. For them and the lawyers and investigators at the Commission on Judicial Discipline who listened, we are grateful. But what happens now? How does the system reassure families that a biased Judge did not make a biased decision?

Whether implicit or explicit, bias and racism affect families of color in a very real way according the AFCARS and NCANDS data. The disproportionality of Black and Latinx children is striking:

4% of the child population in Colorado is Black.

  • Black children are screened in for investigation, are confirmed as maltreated, and enter care at more than twice their rate in the population – 10%.
  • Black children are in care at more than twice their rate in the population – 9%.
  • Black children are in care for 2+ years at more than three times their rate in the population – 14%.
  • Black youth age out of the system at more than five times their rate in the population – 21%.

31% of the child population in Colorado is Latinx.

  • 36% of children screened in for investigation are Latinx.
  • 38% of children confirmed as maltreated are Latinx.
  • 37% of children entering care and in care are Latinx.
  • 38% of children in care for 2+ years are Latinx.
  • 35% of youth who age out of the system are Latinx.

Sadly, the system knew this data long before it knew about Judge Chase. It is incumbent upon all stakeholders in the child welfare system to ensure that racist, biased, and other discriminatory conduct does not remain in any government system. The ORPC invites parents of color who had Dependency and Neglect cases heard by Judge Chase, and are concerned that racial bias may have impacted their case, to contact our office via our complaint form.

The ORPC is an independent agency within the State of Colorado Judicial Branch that is vested with the oversight and administration of legal representation for indigent parents in child welfare cases across Colorado. These family defense attorneys, known as Respondent Parents’ Counsel or RPC, contract with the ORPC to work on behalf of parents threatened by state intervention with the temporary and/or permanent loss of the custody and rights to their children. The ORPC is dedicated to protecting the fundamental right to parent by advocating for parents’ due process rights, access to appropriate services, and the constitutional right to parent their children.