Robert Stout is an electrician, not an expert on child welfare. But he knew something wasn’t right when he saw a young boy lying in a fetal position on the bedroom floor during a 2008 service call to a Colorado Springs townhouse.

The boy’s eyes were open, but he was motionless. The room reeked of urine.

He called police about an hour after leaving the house, and an officer went out that day.

It would be another 17 months before the 14-year-old boy was removed from the home. Another few months would go by before his five sisters, also showing signs of neglect, were taken from the home and put in foster care. “Somebody dropped the ball somewhere,” Stout said.

Those who investigated and prosecuted the case say it wasn’t just a somebody; it was a systemic fail encompassing problems that have been known to hang over child abuse and neglect cases nationwide. Investigators and prosecutors point to an imperfect child protection system, red flags that are easy to misinterpret or overlook, community and family members who are unwilling to report or unsure about reporting suspicions of abuse and neglect — and perpetrators who are savvy enough to elude detection.

A three-part series that begins Sunday in The Gazette explores how the child protection system works, how El Paso County ranks in terms of child abuse and how child neglect differs from child abuse in the eyes of prosecutors who handle the cases.

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