In August, a Nevada lawmaker called on Clark County officials to investigate complaints of unsafe environments in group homes for foster children, allegations that included inappropriate touching, the availability of alcohol and tobacco to minors and a lack of basic necessities.
Most of the concerns raised in August during a public meeting organized by Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, involved A Brighter Day Family Services, an agency that operates county-licensed homes.
Assistant County Manager Jeff Wells assured Flores that the Department of Family Services already was investigating.
No new residents were to be placed at the Brighter Day home under investigation, officials for both the county and the group home said.
Five months later, the facility is no longer licensed as a group home. It’s still taking in foster children but now is licensed as a “non-staff family foster home,” with a licensed foster parent providing care for a smaller number of occupants than allowed at a group home. Family Services again began placing children at the northwest valley facility on Dec. 9.
But the details of the investigation, what happened at the facility and whether any corrective action took place aren’t being disclosed by the county — not even to the lawmaker who made the concerns public in the first place.
“I didn’t hear back from anyone at all,” Flores said this week, adding that she assumes Family Services did do something after she turned over all the information she had collected. “I’m curious, too.”
Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said the safety of children in Clark County is paramount to Family Services, but he declined to discuss the investigation of the Brighter Day home.
“While DFS takes all complaints seriously and investigates them thoroughly, it does not confirm the existence of, or comment upon the results of its investigations,” Pappa said at the end of December.
When reminded that an assistant county manager already had confirmed the investigation during a public meeting in August, Pappa said, “The department makes decisions regularly to grant or deny licenses to care for our most vulnerable population. The department does not comment on the status or outcome of any investigation in order to further protect the safety, permanency and well-being of children.”
That response came as no surprise to child advocates who are often at odds with Family Services.
“Family Services is an agency that is not transparent; it has never been transparent,” said Bill Grimm, senior attorney for the California-based National Center for Youth Law, on Monday. Grimm also is an attorney in a class-action lawsuit against the county involving foster child welfare. “This is an agency that believes in secrecy, that believes in hiding their mistakes.”
Kirby Burgess, executive director of A Brighter Day and a retired Clark County director of juvenile justice, said he couldn’t comment on the investigation or whether allegations were substantiated or unsubstantiated. He offered assurances that if any program or employee actions were recommended or ordered by the county, his agency complied.
“We take these kind of things seriously,” Burgess said.
The home that was investigated now has a full-time foster parent living at the facility and support staff who come in to assist, he said. Six siblings are staying there.
Victor Vieth, executive director of the Minnesota-based National Child Protection Training Center, said it would be in the public’s interest to know what transpired at the group home.
“It’s extremely important to have a lot of structure, a lot of checks and balances, to keep children safe,” he said.
Jill Marano, deputy administrator for the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services, said Clark County Family Services is not necessarily required to report to the state findings of its investigations. State agencies, however, do have a central database for child welfare investigations, she added.
The state sometimes can ask Family Services about an investigation if there are concerns, Marano said. Her agency did not make such an inquiry regarding the group home investigation in Clark County, she added.
Marano said she believes that case-specific information is confidential.
“We create a case once we do an investigation,” she said.
Grimm said since this case involves a home where children continue to be placed, the agency should make public the results of the investigation.
“I think they can do that without violating the confidentiality of any children or families,” he said.
The agency talks about being transparent, but it has maintained a culture of secrecy, Grimm said.
“Until there’s enough public outcry about that … nothing is going to change,” Grimm said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (702) 383-0440, or firstname.lastname@example.org.