The need for mental health supports for Colorado children is greater than ever before.

Legislation to help is being considered by Colorado policymakers, and they need to hear from you! SB24-001, will continue the “I Matter” youth mental health services program, which provides up to six free therapy sessions and reimburses participating licensed therapists. 

Almost 11,000 children and teens have used the program already. If SB24-001 is not passed, the “I Matter” program will end this summer. SB24-001 has been passed by the Senate and was passed by the House Health and Human Services Committee last week. As it continues to progress through the House, please let your representative know this legislation is important to you. Send an email today!

Stand for Children Colorado advances educational equity and racial justice in Colorado through meaningful partnerships with families, educators, schools, and policymakers. One of the ways we uphold this work is through our annual Advocacy Fellowship.   

Stand for Children Colorado Advocacy Fellows are community leaders advocating for policy solutions towards racial justice and equity in education.  With the support of Stand staff, advocacy fellows will deep dive into issues affecting Colorado communities today, co-create solutions, democratize knowledge back to their communities, work to break down barriers to power and access decision makers, and, in the process, build long-lasting relationships and invaluable skills. 

We are excited to introduce the 2023–2024 Fellows! 


Meet Jesse

Jesse is a mother of three and a Denver native. She has been working for Denver Public Schools since 2018 and prior to that she worked for Jefferson County Public Schools. She is passionate about working with youth, especially those at risk of falling through the cracks. She was drawn to Stand for Children because of all the great work they have done to help families and young people. This is her 3rd year as a Stand Advocacy fellow, and she is so proud of the work that has been done. 

  1. What are you most excited about this year’s fellowship program? Every year I continue to learn more, and I get a little more confident. I am excited about the work we will do this session and to learn more about what is happening around the state.
  2. What is your favorite children’s book? The Giving Tree is a book I have a love/hate relationship with. It is such a deep book for kids. It can be used as a beautiful story about loving someone more than yourself (a mother’s love). However, it can also be a cautionary tale about giving all of yourself away, especially to someone who doesn’t appreciate it.
  3. What do you like most about Colorado? I love how many parks we have. There are so many things to do and places to go.

Stand for Children Colorado advances educational equity and racial justice in Colorado through meaningful partnerships with families, educators, schools, and policymakers. One of the ways we uphold this work is through our annual Advocacy Fellowship.   

Stand for Children Colorado Advocacy Fellows are community leaders advocating for policy solutions towards racial justice and equity in education.  With the support of Stand staff, advocacy fellows will deep dive into issues affecting Colorado communities today, co-create solutions, democratize knowledge back to their communities, work to break down barriers to power and access decision makers, and, in the process, build long-lasting relationships and invaluable skills. 

We are excited to introduce the 2023–2024 Fellows! 

Meet Leah

Leah claims to be from Colorado, though she was technically born in Texas. Her ability to attract odd suitors — like the man who took her to buy a gun rack on a first (and last) date — earned her a monthly dating column in a now-defunct women’s magazine produced by the Boulder Daily Camera and launched her freelance writing career. Since then, her words have been published online and in print for a wide range of publications, including Marie Claire, INSIDER, Colorado Life Magazine, and Fodor’s Travel. In addition to writing and editing, Leah works primarily with arts and culture organizations and nonprofits as a communications and marketing consultant. As someone passionate about her Northeast Denver community, she is excited to be a Stand fellow and to learn about how to most effectively advocate for her 80205 and 80216 communities. 

  1. What are you most excited about this year’s fellowship program? I am excited to increase my community organizing skills and learn how to have more impact through this fellowship. I’m hoping to learn even a little bit about how to better navigate what bills exist and where they are in the process.
  2. What is your favorite children’s book? My favorite children’s book is called “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” by Shel Silverstein. It is about a lonely wedge shaped piece looking for where it fits and realizing it doesn’t have to fit anywhere to be fulfilled.
  3. What do you like most about Colorado? My favorite thing about Colorado is how varied the landscape is. People only think about the mountains, but so much of Colorado is plains or high desert, deep canyons and wide plateaus. 

Stand for Children Colorado advances educational equity and racial justice in Colorado through meaningful partnerships with families, educators, schools, and policymakers. One of the ways we uphold this work is through our annual Advocacy Fellowship.   

Stand for Children Colorado Advocacy Fellows are community leaders advocating for policy solutions towards racial justice and equity in education.  With the support of Stand staff, advocacy fellows will deep dive into issues affecting Colorado communities today, co-create solutions, democratize knowledge back to their communities, work to break down barriers to power and access decision makers, and, in the process, build long-lasting relationships and invaluable skills. 

We are excited to introduce the 2023–2024 Fellows! 

Meet Andrea

Andrea was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, as a Latina women. She is the mother of two children who are 8 and 3. She first got involved with Stand for Children in 2023 when she shared her experience growing up with an incarcerated parent and testified in favor of HB23-1133, Cost of Phone Calls for Persons in Custody. It was then she realized how important and impactful it is to be part of such an amazing group of community of leaders making a difference in our communities and children’s lives. 

  1. What are you most excited about this year’s fellowship program?  I’m excited about the bills we are supporting and making a difference for our student’s futures.
  2. What is your favorite children’s book? My favorite childhood book is the Junie B. Jones series and the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series.
  3. What do you like most about Colorado? My favorite thing about Colorado is our beautiful Rocky Mountains.

Stand for Children Colorado advances educational equity and racial justice in Colorado through meaningful partnerships with families, educators, schools, and policymakers. One of the ways we uphold this work is through our annual Advocacy Fellowship.   

Stand for Children Colorado Advocacy Fellows are community leaders advocating for policy solutions towards racial justice and equity in education.  With the support of Stand staff, advocacy fellows will deep dive into issues affecting Colorado communities today, co-create solutions, democratize knowledge back to their communities, work to break down barriers to power and access decision makers, and, in the process, build long-lasting relationships and invaluable skills. 

We are excited to introduce the 2023–2024 Fellows! 


Meet Yaeel

1. What are you most excited about this year’s fellowship program? Me entusiasma poder seguir aprendiendo de la organización y seguir aportando de una manera productiva para que las voces y necesidades de nuestra comunidad sean escuchadas. ( I am excited to continue learning from the organization and continue contributing in a productive way so that the voices and needs of our community are heard.)

2. What is your favorite children’s book? The Giving Tree.

3. What do you like most about Colorado?  Su Naturaleza,Su oxígeno,Su gente. ( Its Nature, its oxygen, its people.)

High School Students With Teacher In Class Using Laptops Smiling

Today the House Education Committee heard HB23-1109, School Policies And Student Conduct.  This is a bill that promotes restorative practices, ensures reduced legal system involvement, fosters fairness in a system that otherwise considers students guilty until proven innocent, and creates accountability for unregulated and untrained expulsion hearing officers. Lauren Kinney, school counselor and Stand Advocacy Fellow prepared testimony in support of HB23-1109 that was read during the hearing by government affairs director, Bri Buentello. Below are those remarks.

“My name is Lauren Kinney and I am asking you to support HB23-1109. As a high school counselor, I am forced to witness and triage the fallout of failed exclusionary discipline on practically a daily basis. The amount of time I spend responding to frustrated teachers, admin hell-bent on maintaining the status quo of zero-tolerance policies, exhausted parents, and students that are starved for connection and struggling to cope with the trauma of a pandemic.  

Students need services, kindness, respect, and to be taught the Colorado Essential Skills (Empowered Individual, Communicator, Problem Solver, and Community Member). We have local and national data warning us for decades about the unintended consequences of even a single failed class or suspension on graduation rates and the likelihood of entering the criminal justice system. 

  • We know that one suspension in ninth grade doubles the risk of failing classes and increases the risk of dropping out by 20% (Mallett, 2016). 
  • Students that fail one or more classes during their freshman year only have a 14% likelihood of graduating on time with their peers (ASCA, 2019). 

If you explore the Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection website, you will see that regardless of the county in Colorado, our marginalized students are disproportionately impacted by these antiquated systems.  

Our best, most obvious solution is to focus on Restorative Justice Practices focused on addressing the harm done to individual and community stakeholders while focusing heavily on the rehabilitation of the perpetrator. There is  significant evidence that RJP can improve student misbehavior, minimize exclusionary discipline, reduce discipline gaps related to race and disabilities, and have a positive impact on the students’ and teachers’ perceptions of the safety and pro-social climate of the schools.  

Because you all have the advantage of using your fully-formed adult brains, I urge you to consider the long-term unintended consequences of our children’s behaviors that their underdeveloped brains cannot.”  

Today the House Education Committee heard HB23-1109, School Policies And Student Conduct.  This is a bill that promotes restorative practices, ensures reduced legal system involvement, fosters fairness in a system that otherwise considers students guilty until proven innocent, and creates accountability for unregulated and untrained expulsion hearing officers. Jesse Rula, educator, parent, and Stand Advocacy Fellow prepared testimony in support of HB23-1109 that was read during the hearing by state organizing director, Ivana Bejaran Rib. Below are those remarks.

“My name is Jesse Rula and I am asking for your support of HB23-1109. Reducing the number of expulsions happening to Colorado youth is something I feel very strongly about due to my own personal experience.  

I was a struggling teenager and was expelled from 2 different schools. I had a lot of personal things going on and it spilled into my school life. I was never expelled for anything related to drugs or violence but overall disruptive behavior. What I wish my teachers and school staff would have known was that my behavior was a cry for help.  

Being expelled didn’t help. It only left me with more time in the same unhealthy environment I was in. What I needed was for the school to see that my behavior was a symptom of something bigger but instead I was allowed to slip through the cracks. Eventually, I just quit school altogether. Being expelled and struggling to find a school that would look at me as more than the reputation that preceded me became too hard and I gave up. I ended up pregnant at 16 and a high school dropout.  

Despite all that, I am a success story. I did get my life together and I managed to go to college and eventually get my master’s degree. I ended up working for the same school system that failed me because I never wanted it to happen to another student. Despite what some of our students look like now, we have no idea what potential they have in the future. Just because a student is struggling, or making bad choices now, doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish great things with the right support.  

Expelling students, especially for smaller infractions, is only a temporary fix for a much larger problem. It often leads to kids just quitting all together. In the end, these young people will someday become adults and if we continue to treat them like marginalized members of society, we may pay a higher price in the end.  

If someone had taken the time to see me as more than a problem to get rid of, I might have had an easier road to get to where I am now. Please, don’t allow schools to be so quick to turn our students out. Give them a chance to thrive and succeed, thank you. “

Today the House Education Committee heard HB23-1109, School Policies And Student Conduct.  This is a bill that promotes restorative practices, ensures reduced legal system involvement, fosters fairness in a system that otherwise considers students guilty until proven innocent, and creates accountability for unregulated and untrained expulsion hearing officers. Tina Carroll, educator, parent, and Stand Advocacy Fellow prepared testimony in support of HB23-1109 that was read during the hearing by parent organizer, Natalie Perez. Below are those remarks.

“Hello, my name is Tina Carroll and I have a third-grade student that attends school in Jefferson County. I am an educator who also serves as a conduct and community standards officer. As a parent, educator, and servant leader in the community, I believe HB23-1109 closely aligns and has the potential to be the change we need to see in our schools and communities. The biggest component of this bill that resonates with me is the responsibility and pertinent role of the hearing officer. It is truly unimageable that we have individuals deciding our children’s future who are not trained in trauma, conflict resolution, cultural competency and familiar with milestones in children development. Although this is not an exhaustive list, it is clear that we are allowing our students to enter into an education system at a disadvantage. If we don’t make the change now to have skillful and well-versed advocates making informed decisions for our students and their families than we are accepting a system that funnels students out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal legal system.   

It is no secret that racial and ethnic minorities and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented in our legal system and in our classrooms. And to continue operating in a system where hearing officers are permitted to take a more punitive approach, instead of a responsive one is disheartening and a casualty in our education system.   

Members of the house, today I ask that you vote yes on this bill and take a stand for all children in the state of Colorado and mandate that we use best practices, by making sure that all hearing officers are subject matter experts, have ongoing trainings, and adequate resources for effective life changing outcomes and behavior modifications that will keep our children in the classrooms where they belong. ”

HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements was heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 31. Below is the prepared testimony of Yaeel Duarte. Her testimony was written in Spanish and delivered by community organizer, Vallerie Bustamante. You can read both testimonies below. Learn more about HB23-1042 and why we are supporting it.

Gracias por la oportunidad de estar aquí hoy y hablar con usted sobre por qué quiero apoyar el Proyecto de Ley HB 23-1042, para la protección de la verdad y la confianza en los interrogatorios a menores. 

Mi nombre es Yaeel Duarte, vivo en la ciudad y condado de Denver soy madre de familia de 4  Este proyecto de ley está muy apegado a mi corazón precisamente porque viven conmigo 3 de mis 4 hijos. Los cuales son de edades 20,15 y 14 años de edad. En base a las estadísticas en  cuanto a interrogaciones falsas por el motivo de intimidación a los menores No me puedo imaginar la impotencia de los padres de saber cómo sus hijos por temor o estrés del momento 

No fueron escuchados y eso sin tomar en cuenta que muchos adolescentes y jóvenes No saben expresar y comunicarse en momentos de presión para ellos. Definitivamente que Nadie incluyendo los adultos puede pensar claro ni en las consecuencias a futuro de lo que hablar sin analizar me pueden traer. 

Me encantaría ver como las leyes se capacitan lo suficiente para efectuar de manera justa tales interrogaciones. Que los jueces y oficiales puedan tener la habilidad de observar cuando un joven se ve bajo presión y que se puedan hacer las investigaciones necesarias para asegurarse de que están hablando la verdad. Por supuesto que esto sea viable para todo joven frente a un oficial sin importar raza o color. 

Nuestro estado puede desarrollar ese nivel de confianza si todas las partes involucradas ponen de su parte, este es un país que practica la Justicia y la libertad y eso mismo hay que enseñar a las generaciones venideras. 

Gracias por tomarse el tiempo de escucharme. 

Good afternoon chair and members of the committee, my name is Vallerie Bustamante and I am community organizer with Stand for Children, today I will be reading for one of our community leaders who actually wrote her testimony in Spanish, but for the sake of time I translated and will be reading it in English.  

Thank you for the opportunity in presenting my testimony and letting me tell you about why I support HB Bill 23-1042, for the protection of truth and trust in interrogation settings of minors. 

My name is Yaeel Duarte, I live in the city and county of Denver, I am the mother of 4 children and I am a fellow for Stand for Children. 

This bill is very close to my heart precisely because 3 of my 4 children still live with me. They are 20, 15 and 14 years old. Based on the statistics regarding false confessions when dishonest interrogations happen to intimidate minors; I cannot imagine the powerlessness parents might feel to know that their children could be in a position where an adult in power could be using dishonest tactics to drive them into confessing something false. Nobody, including adults, can think clearly about future consequences under such pressure. I would love to see the laws empowered enough to fairly carry out such interrogations, that judges and officials may have the ability to observe when a young person is under pressure and that the necessary investigations can be carried out to make sure they are speaking the truth. Of course this is viable for every young person in front of an officer regardless of race or color. Our state can develop that level of trust if all parties involved put forth their part, this is a country that practices true justice and freedom and that must be taught to our future generations.  

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my testimony and I ask you to vote in favor of HB23-1042.  

At the age of 14, Lawrence Montoya was coerced into a confession that cost him more than 13 years of freedom. A cognitively impaired teenager residing in Denver, Montoya was subjected to hours of law enforcement techniques including “false evidence ploy, manipulation, minimization, threats, false promises.” Finally under immense pressure Montoya succumbed to these techniques and confessed falsely, resulting in a wrongful conviction. This tragic case is sadly just a single reminder of many of the urgency of protecting truth and trust in juvenile interrogations, and the importance of passing HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements.

Currently in Colorado, law enforcement may use deception during interrogation of youth. The methods used during these interrogations can also be harmful. Juveniles may be subjected to physical and psychological pressure, such as being held in isolation, being threatened with harsher punishment, or being presented with fake evidence. These tactics can lead to false confessions and can also cause long-term psychological damage. Children are more susceptible to manipulation and more likely to provide inaccurate information and false confessions under such pressure. According to an analysis published by the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University “There can be no doubt about it: Young people are simply more likely to be wrongfully convicted than adults.” “They are less able to weigh risks and consequences; less likely to understand their legal rights; and less likely to understand what attorneys do or how attorneys can help them.” 

Colorado now has an opportunity to follow states such as Oregon, Illinois and pass safeguards for kids with HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements which will:

  • Increase funding for interrogation training for law enforcement, and 
  • Improve the general reliability of confessions by requiring all juvenile interrogations to be recorded, and
  • If law enforcement does use deceptive tactics during custodial interrogation, the judge may discern whether the resulting confession was voluntary and therefore reliable and admissible in trial.  

The University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations examined the prevalence of false confessions in wrongful convictions of juveniles and found “Forty percent of exonerees who were under 18 at the time of the crime falsely confessed, including 53 percent of 14- and 15-year olds, and 86 percent of the few who were 13 years old or younger. By comparison, only 7 percent of adult exonerees without reported mental disabilities falsely confessed.”

Under interrogation for two and a half hours Lawrence Montoya denied 65 times being involved in the murder that he was ultimately coerced into confessing to using deceptive tactics. This confession was used in the absence of a shred of physical evidence to convict a 14 year old child. Unjust convictions such as Lawrence Montoya’s undermines the integrity of the justice system and can be prevented by HB 23-1042. Unfortunately, we cannot give back the countless years that have been taken from wrongly convicted children such as Lawrence Montoya, but this important legislation can be a first step in building trust within the criminal justice system and preventing future unjust convictions.

https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/sites/ca10/files/opinions/010110692520.pdf

Noah Stout, of Denver, is an attorney who has worked on multiple wrongful conviction exonerations.