Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF)


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Provides information on OCYF as well as their policies and procedures, a FAQ, and more.

A list of all the child welfare programs undertaken in Colorado.


Statutes and Regulations

Unfortunately, direct links to the Colorado laws cited on this page are not available.  To find a particular statute, please visit LexisNexis, click on “Colorado Revised Statutes,” and use the numbers we provide below (three digits separated by hyphens).  Title is the first number (usually 18 or 19), followed by the Article, then the Part.

Civil Child Abuse and Neglect

  • Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-1-103 — Definitions.
  • Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-102 — Neglected or dependent child.

“Child abuse or neglect” under Colorado law explicitly includes situations where there is a controlled substance “in the presence of a child, on the premises where a child is found, or where a child resides,” or where a controlled substance “is manufactured or attempted to be manufactured.”  Controlled substances are defined by Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-18-102(5), and include marijuana.

“Child abuse or neglect” under Colorado law also includes situations where an infant tests positive at birth for a Schedule I controlled substance, as defined by § 18-18-203, which includes tetrahydrocannabinols (THC).  Although an infant testing positive for a Schedule II substance, if legally prescribed to the mother, is not considered child abuse or neglect, medical marijuana does not qualify for this exception because it is recommended, not prescribed.

  • Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-304 — Persons required to report child abuse or neglect.

List of “mandated reporters,” or professionals who are required to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect to OCYF, and the rules for when and how they must report.  There is no specific provision in the law for the reporting of “substance-exposed infants.”

Procedures the department must follow in conducting an assessment or investigation of a report of child abuse or neglect, and the timeframes in which they must be completed.  Included in the assessments that must be performed by the social worker are questions related to “substance abuse history by any family member.”

  • Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-313 — Central Registry (repealed, eff. January 1, 2004)
  • Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-313.5 — Reports of child abuse and neglect; notice and appeals process.
  • 12 Colo. Code Regs. § 2509-3-7.202.6 — State-level appeals process.

Colorado no longer has a Central Registry, as this law was repealed following numerous reports to the legislature documenting serious inaccuracies and omissions.  Since the Central Registry was repealed, counties can choose to defer entering a founded finding of abuse or neglect while the parent voluntarily cooperates with services; however, if the parent fails to complete a signed service agreement, the finding is entered into the state’s automated case management system.  Any person found to be responsible in a confirmed report of child abuse or neglect has the right to appeal that finding, and must submit the request for appeal within 90 days of receiving notice.  If a juvenile court has already decided the child to be abused or neglected (see jurisdiction, below), the parent’s appeal will not succeed.  The state may try to negotiate with the parent to avoid the dispute going to a hearing, but a hearing must be held if negotiations have not been successful 120 days after the department receives the appeal request.  To uphold a finding of abuse or neglect, the state has a very low standard: preponderance of the evidence.  This means the state must only show it is “more likely than not” that the abuse or neglect occurred.

  • Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-1-104 — Jurisdiction of juvenile court.

This law grants a juvenile court jurisdiction over a child who is alleged to be abused or neglected, meaning that the court assumes responsibility for deciding matters of custody and care of that child.  County child welfare authorities may petition the court to assume this type of jurisdiction over a child if they believe the child has been abused or neglected.

  • Colo. Rev. Stat § 19-3-401 — Taking children into custody.

A newborn child who is born in a hospital usually may not be taken into temporary protective custody without an order of the court finding that “an emergency situation exists and that the newborn child is seriously endangered.”  In those emergency situations, the child “may be detained in a hospital upon the recommendation of a county department of social services, a physician, a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse, or a physician’s assistant” while a court order for care & protection is being pursued.  If the order is denied, the child must then be released.

However, court orders are not required to detain the child if she or he is identified by hospital staff as being “affected by substance abuse or demonstrating withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure,” or “when the newborn child is subject to an environment exposing the newborn child to a laboratory for manufacturing controlled substances” (including marijuana).  There is no definition of what proof is needed for a newborn to be considered “affected” by substance abuse.

  • Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-604 — Grounds for termination of parental rights.

Juvenile courts in Colorado may terminate the parental rights when the parent is found to be unfit. In making the unfitness determination, the court may consider as one factor the parent’s “excessive use of intoxicating…controlled substances that affects the ability to care and provide for the child.”


Criminal Child Abuse

  • Colo. Rev. Stat.  § 18-6-401 — Child abuse.

A parent commits the crime of child abuse if he or she “knowingly engages in the manufacture or attempted manufacture of a controlled substance”, as defined by § 18-18-102 (5) (which includes marijuana and any kind of natural or synthetic cannabinoids), in the presence of a child, on the premises where a child is found, where a child resides, or in a vehicle containing a child up to sixteen years of age.


 State Marijuana Laws



On Nov. 6, 2012, Colorado voters approved on the election ballot Amendment 64 to the Colorado Constitution, which legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults ages 21 and over.  It contained no specific provision to protect parents, pregnant women, or guardians from CPS intervention for recreational marijuana use.

After Amendment 64 was passed by the voters, the Governor issued an Executive Order creating a Task Force to begin implementation.  The task force included five working groups on different aspects of regulations, including taxation, retail businesses, public safety, and criminal law.  Several of the working groups did discuss child welfare, pregnant women, parents, and even parties where there is marijuana in homes where children live.  For an extensive analysis of Colorado’s task force report (and current Amendment 64 legislation as relates to child protective services and family law) please see this article by our co-founder.

Colorado’s legislature passed a trio of bills in May 2013 providing appropriations and a variety of other provisions for the implementation of Amendment 64.  One of them, S.B. 283, called for a scientific study of many aspects of Amendment 64 implementation, including “data related to drug-endangered children, specifically for marijuana.” The full requirements for the study are now codified at § 24-33.5-516.

The backers of this bill originally sought to define “drug-endangered child,” for purposes of civil child abuse or neglect, according to the federal Controlled Substance Act, bypassing Amendment 64’s intent and exposing parenting adults to CPS action through their now-legal marijuana use.  That version of the bill did not pass.  However, the version signed into law (codified at § 18-18.5-103(4)(i)) gives the responsibility for creating a definition of “drug-endangered child” to the Colorado DEC-associated State Methamphetamine Task Force (SMTF), who are known for equating cannabis exposure with exposure to methamphetamine.  SMTF will deliver a final report with its new definition of “drug-endangered children” in the context of civil child abuse or neglect by January 1, 2014.



  • Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-18-406(5) — Offenses related to marijuana and marijuana concentrate.

Colorado decriminalized petty marijuana possession in the 1970s. Currently, less than two ounces possessed for personal use is a petty offense punishable by a $100 fine.  Possession or use in public may be punished by up to 15 days in jail.


Medical Marijuana

Amendment 20 to the Colorado Constitution was passed by voters on November 7, 2000 and took effect on June 1, 2001, removing criminal penalties for the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana by qualified patients.  The legislature enacted enabling legislation early in 2001, now codified at § 18-18-406.3.  There were several amendments to that law in 2011 regarding synthetic cannabinoids.  Neither the Constitutional amendment, the legislature’s original enactment, nor the statutory amendments provide any explicit protection from CPS to pregnant women, parents, or guardians who are legal patients.

  • Colo. Rev. Stat. § 25-1.5-106 — Medical marijuana program.

Lays out the power, duties, and responsibilities of the Colorado Department of Public Health as well as those of medical marijuana patients.  A patient must not “engage in the medical use of marijuana in a way that endangers the health and well-being of a person,” nor may a patient “undertake any task while under the influence of medical marijuana, when doing so would constitute negligence.”

Government website with more information on the program including full rules and policies.

All Colorado Laws & Penalties (NORML)


Case Law

In re Marriage of Parr and Lyman, 240 P.3d 509 (Colo. Ct. App. 2010).  Following the parents’ divorce, father signed a parenting plan that included a requirement that he undergo urinalysis “to demonstrate that he does not return to marijuana use.”  One week later, father was approved by the State’s Medical Marijuana Registry as a medical cannabis patient, due to debilitating conditions following a motorcycle accident.  Father then requested a modification of the parenting plan, which the trial court denied, adding additional requirements that father submit to hair follicle testing and supervised visitation.  The trial court also stated that father could only seek modification of the order if he “demonstrated to this Court by clear and convincing evidence that his use of medical marijuana is not detrimental to the child.”  He appealed, and the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the parenting restriction and additional requirements, on the narrow basis that the trial court had erred by failing to find, as a matter of fact, that the father’s use of medical marijuana physically or mentally endangered his daughter.  The original parenting plan requiring father to undergo urinalysis remained in place.

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