Las Vegas Sun

November 15, 2018

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Federal report criticizes Nevada child welfare

Child welfare and foster care programs in Nevada do a poor job of consistently and quickly responding to reports of abuse, are inconsistent when it comes to removing children from their parents' homes, and then when they do, often fail to maintain strong relationships between children and the parents they are removed from, according to a federal report released Thursday.

The Nevada Child and Family Services Review, a report from the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Nevada's child welfare programs fall short in most areas reviewed, which also included ensuring foster children have adequate access to education and health care, and the ongoing monitoring of cases.

However, state programs were doing well with training, and licensing for foster and adoptive parents, the federal report said.

The government could withhold $368,955 unless state officials prepare a plan to fix the deficiencies, Sharon Fujii, the regional administrator for the federal agency, warned the Nevada Department of Human Resources in a letter.

Clark County Manager Thom Reilly, a former administrator for the state child welfare program, said many of the problems identified by the report should be alleviated by the merging of the state and county child welfare services, which is expected to be completed by October.

Reilly said the problem with the state and county both controlling part of the system now is that children get through the system more slowly because their cases have to be transferred from county investigators to the state officials who run the foster-care and adoption programs. The length of time a child waits to be placed either back with their parents or an adoptive family should be reduced when one agency controls the whole process, he said.

"Now we're passing families off from one system to another," he said.

Other problems should be helped by an increased effort to put more families in touch with available services to help with education, health, mental health, child care and other issues, he said.

The county will have more staff soon to help families. The county's budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 calls for adding 22 new full-time employees to the staff of the county Family Services Division, which has about 270 employees now.

Joy Salmon, the division's assistant director, said the county has already adopted a uniform way to assess the risk of mistreatment in a family, which should eliminate some of the inconsistencies noted in the federal review.

Jone Bosworth, administrator of the state Division of Child and Family Services, said Wednesday there needs to be a "cultural change" in the way the division works.

Officials must shift some of the resources to support parents who keep their children. At present a lot of money spent is on programs after the child is taken from the home, she said.

Bosworth's comments came before the release of the federal report, which had been described to her by investigators. She said investigators found several deficiencies in the state's system for child care, including a finding that some abused and neglected children are kept too long in shelters before being placed in foster homes. The review also noted that the county's shelter is not licensed, she said.

Reilly said the licensing is not important because the shelter, Child Haven, is safe, and all the licensing does is allow a shelter to apply for federal funds. But Reilly said Child Haven, which has about 100 beds, is too large to qualify for those funds anyway.

He also said that the merging of the state and county systems should lessen the time children spend at Child Haven because their cases will not have to be transferred from one agency to another as they are now.

Nevada's review was based on a study of 49 cases from around the state done earlier this year.

Bosworth said no state has passed the federal inspection.

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