National Center for Youth Law Files Lawsuit in Nevada to Improve Child Welfare System
For more information contact:
Tracy Schroth, 510-835-8098 X 3013
Aug 30, 2006 – The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) filed a class action lawsuit in August against Nevada Gov. Kenneth C. Guinn, state Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden, and Clark County officials for failing to protect the health and safety of children in Clark County’s child welfare system. The suit charges the defendants with causing serious harm to many children in the system, and calls for sweeping, system-wide reform. The county is responsible for the welfare of more than 3,600 children.
“Virtually every aspect of the county’s child protective services and foster care system is failing the children and youth it is charged with protecting,” according to plaintiffs’ complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas by NCYL and the law firm of Wolfenzon Schulman, co-counsel in the case.
During the past several years, the county’s failures have resulted in harm to an untold number of children:
- A recent state report indicates that since 2002, at least 79 children have died of abuse or neglect at the hands of their parents, foster parents, or other caregivers while under the watch of Clark County Department of Family Services (DFS). These victims include children who were left at home or in a foster placement after a substantiated report of abuse.
- A series of federal, state, and county reports have documented the county’s failure to protect child abuse victims and children in foster care. This documentation includes a letter from federal officials to state DHHS Director Michael Willden stating that “the manner in which the continuum of child welfare services is managed in Clark County should be grave concern to the State.”
- For years, the county child welfare system has continuously avoided scrutiny by hiding “behind a veil of confidentiality meant to protect children and families, but which the county has used to shield itself from oversight and criticism,” according to plaintiffs’ complaint. For example, the county continues to violate federal law requiring public disclosure of findings and information about child abuse victims who have died or suffered near fatalities.
Nevada and its counties receive millions of dollars in federal funds to provide child welfare services and are, therefore, required to comply with federal mandates. According to the complaint, Nevada spent more than $79 million on child welfare services in 2004, of which $44 million was federal money.
The lawsuit identifies the following systemic problems with the Clark County child welfare system:
- Severe overcrowding and unsafe conditions at Child Haven – an unlicensed child care facility. The facility houses infants and young children with older children with serious behavioral problems, posing a danger to the younger children; has children sleeping on floors and in gymnasiums, and fails to meet the mental health and other medical needs of children
- High caseloads and inadequate child protective services caseworker training
- Inadequate investigations of child abuse reports, resulting in children being left in dangerous situations
- Insufficient foster parent recruitment efforts, inappropriate placements, lack of foster parent training or preparation, and little or no support or monitoring of foster parents.
- Lack of responsiveness to complaints of children being abused or neglected in foster placements. At the same time, the county retaliates against foster parents who advocate for services or disagree with the agency’s plan for the child.
- Lack of representation for children in dependency court proceedings
- Failure to provide appropriate educational services
“The suffering of these children has gone on long enough. For years, state and county officials have known of the serious deficiencies in the system and the resulting harm to children, and yet the situation keeps getting worse” said Bill Grimm of the National Center for Youth Law and lead counsel on the case. “The lives of thousands of children are literally hanging in the balance.”
The National Center for Youth Law, based in Oakland, CA, is a national non-profit law center that advocates for poor children. Wolfenzon Schulman is a private law firm with offices in Las Vegas, Reno, San Diego, and Phoenix.