Tuesday, July 27, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
Among the toughest decisions facing Clark County social workers is determining when it is appropriate to remove children from their households based on allegations of abuse or neglect. Many times, it takes nothing more than common sense to conclude that an abused child with obvious physical or emotional scars should be removed immediately from a dangerous home environment and placed in the child welfare system. On the other extreme are situations where all it takes is parental instruction on basic tasks such as housekeeping or knowing how to balance a checkbook to justify keeping children in their homes.
The fact remains that child welfare in Clark County, as it is in many other locales throughout the country, is an imperfect system that is difficult to fix.
That’s because determining the best interests of the child is an extremely complex, emotionally charged process that involves the delicate fabric of a troubled family, along with legal, financial and medical issues.
The latest evidence of this, as reported Sunday by the Las Vegas Sun’s Joe Schoenmann, is the fact that Clark County Manager Virginia Valentine is reviewing 82 cases in which the district attorney’s office says that the county’s Family Services Department would have returned children to dangerous homes or would not have had them removed quickly had the DA not intervened. These cases have led to finger-pointing among the district attorney’s office, Metro Police and Family Services.
Where children are concerned, it is time for these parochial battles to end once and for all.
In its place, we urge Family Services and law enforcement agencies to work together on a comprehensive strategy with a singular goal — doing what is best for the child. A county senior management analyst said related discussions have been planned, but we believe everything should be on the table, even if it takes reconstructing the child welfare system from scratch.
Start with basics such as a definition of child abuse or neglect. Take a close look at social worker training and caseloads. Don’t settle for a well-trained caseworker with an unduly heavy case-load or an ill-trained worker with an average load. Both scenarios can produce wrongheaded snap judgments that are not good for the child. Superior training and reasonable caseloads should be the reality, not some fantasy.
Work on better communication between Family Services and law enforcement to provide the team effort children deserve. Make sure children are adequately represented in court, whether that means participation from the district attorney’s office or use of pro bono private attorneys or another legal avenue that is fair to all parties involved.
To keep as many children in their homes as possible, the county should ensure that there is enough counseling and other resources available to help well-meaning but troubled parents regain the footing they need to rear their children in a safe, nurturing environment.
On behalf of children who must be removed from their homes and placed elsewhere on a long-term basis, conduct a thorough review of the foster care system. Make sure foster parents are both properly screened and adequately paid for the services they provide. Do as much as possible to keep siblings together.
Do all of these things and we may one day have a child welfare system that is rid of scandal and finger-pointing. The children who are involved in abuse and neglect cases have already had a rough go. They deserve nothing less than full cooperation and teamwork from the professionals who control their destiny.