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April 9, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The many failures of child protective agencies are once again costing taxpayers large sums of money. Worse, those sums are being paid because of injuries to children that could have been prevented had the state done its job. We’ve heard this before in state after state. This time it’s Clark County, Nevada whose failure to even minimally oversee the foster parents into whose homes it places children deemed to be at risk caused grave physical harm to children (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 4/6/15).

The federal court in Nevada has approved a $2.075 million settlement for seven former foster children who claimed they were injured while in Clark County’s child welfare system, the National Center for Youth Law announced Monday.

The advocacy group’s attention has now shifted to whether recommendations for county child welfare reform and related court systems will be implemented.

“The track record for the county is not good,” said Bill Grimm, a senior attorney at the Oakland, Calif.,-based National Center for Youth Law, which filed the lawsuit and lobbies for the protection and care of foster children.

The settlement was approved by the Clark County Commission in mid-November, but it still needed final approval from the court.

But that’s not the extent of the money that’ll be coming out of Clark County taxpayers’ pockets.

Clark County spent $1.4 million on attorney fees, which covered outside counsel, and other costs in defending the case.

The various wrongs alleged by the suit have become predictable to those who follow the behavior of child protective agencies and the state legislatures that alternately underfund them and criticize their failures.

The suit cited concerns with numerous aspects of the county’s child welfare system, including the use of psychotropic medications on children, reported physical and sexual abuse in foster homes, and the adequacy of Child Protective Services investigations.

The “adequacy of Child Protective Services investigations” can be put down to, in state after state, lack of money. Too few caseworkers are paid too little. That means those working for CPS tend to be the poorest employees with the requisite education. It also means their caseloads are too big which in turn means the best employees are constantly on the lookout for a better job. That then means high turnover at CPS resulting in large numbers of caseworkers with too little experience to do the job properly.

And all that means children known by CPS to be at risk being lost in the shuffle. And it means children in no serious danger having too much CPS attention paid to them. It also tends to result in overreacting by inexperienced caseworkers, i.e. the tendency to take children out of families and into foster care to demonstrate a “proactive” approach on the caseworker’s part.

Meanwhile, foster care often poses a greater risk of harm than does parental care. Numerous studies have shown the increased danger children face on average in foster care, despite the existence of some fine, loving foster parents. On average, children in foster care are more likely to suffer abuse, including sexual abuse, and neglect than are children who live with their parents. That’s true even in biological families in which the parents are marginally abusive to the children. As a result of that abuse, plus the simple fact of being taken from their parents and possibly their siblings, children in foster care suffer much higher levels of emotional/psychological distress than do other kids.

So every jurisdiction with responsibility for a foster care system should be extra vigilant about who it licenses to provide care. It should also maintain a rigorous regimen of oversight of foster parents. Nevada and Clark County have proved deficient in all of the above.

That’s resulted in the appointment of a “blue-ribbon commission” to investigate and make recommendations. Read about it here (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 3/27/15).

Clark County’s child welfare and court systems are “overtaxed and under stress,” functioning with limited resources under policies and procedures that too often result in less-than-best outcomes for children, according to a report published Thursday.

For example:

By the end of 2013, 35 percent of all first permanency hearings for foster children in Clark County did not happen within 12 months as required by state law, according to the report. As of June 2013, almost half of all dispositional hearings, where judges review family case plans, were not happening within 15 days of the most recent adjudicatory hearing, where child protective services provides evidence of allegations of abuse or neglect..

Less than 14 percent of cases as of June 2013 had a case plan that was filed within the 60-day statutory requirement, according to the report.

“This means that 86.42 percent of families have not been provided their road map to reunification — they do not know what they must do to regain custody of their children,” the report said.

As of this month, there are 2,364 open juvenile dependency cases, of which 299 are open termination of parental rights cases, according to the report.

“For just one of the judges, this represents a caseload of 747 open dependency cases and 111 open (termination of parental rights cases,)” the report said. “Cases are coming in faster than the court can handle, resulting in a backlog of (termination of parental rights).”

Predictably, the panel made recommendations about what needs to change.

The report makes seven main recommendations for reform and how to execute them. The recommendations will be submitted to Clark County commissioners and state lawmakers for action.

The recommendations address the lack of resources for services to prevent children from requiring foster care; delays in processing child welfare cases; issues with finding children permanent placements; excessive caseloads; a need for better caseworker training; and a lack of public trust and confidence in the system.

For his part though, Bill Grimm, attorney for the National Center for Youth Law, is less than impressed.

“A report gets issued... and when it comes to implementing the changes, very little ends up being done,” Grimm said.

We’ll see what happens, but if the past in other states is any indication, Nevada will opt to cut its budget in the vain hope that CPS can do more with less and that children won’t suffer as a result. For my part, I’d suggest that some of the money they’re about to pay out to injured children and their own lawyers could have been better spent protecting children. Maybe an increase in the CPS budget would end up being a money saver in the long run.

Whatever the case, Clark County’s faces yet more lawsuits for its foster care failures. See here (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/14/15). And here (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 6/20/14).

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#fostercare, #lawsuit, #settlement, #childabuse, #childneglect

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