Clark County sued by mother whose children suffered harm in foster care

The mother of a 17-month-old toddler and a 2-month-old baby who suffered neglect under the care of their foster parents is suing Clark County, several Clark County Department of Family Services’ employees and the foster parents.

Former foster parents Andrea Hernandez, 38, and her husband, Waldo Hernandez, 40, were sentenced in March to five years of probation for failing to properly care for the two foster children last year.

“Clark County (Department of Family Services) had guidelines for determining the appropriate priority of hotline calls, but failed to adequately train its hotline staff workers as to those guidelines,” The complaint alleges.

It accuses Lisa Ruiz-Lee, director of Family Services, and Paula Hammack, assistant director of Family Services, of failing to establish appropriate procedures for training employees and supervising foster parents.

Attorney Marjorie Hauf filed the lawsuit last month in Clark County District Court on behalf of Jessica Hargrove, biological mother of the boys. The plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $10,000 for physical and psychological harm the children suffered in foster care.

The claim alleges civil rights violations and negligence.

Hargrove regained custody of her sons in April, Hauf said. They had been removed because of domestic violence between the parents and because of drug and alcohol use in the home, she said.

Hauf and attorney Michael Kane, who is assisting, said once the children were in custody, the county had “the duty to keep them protected.”

“They put them off in situations that are worse than where they started,” Hauf said. “Far worse than in their parents’ home.”

Family Services spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said she would not comment on the pending litigation.

Hargrove visited the Family Services permanency worker handling her case numerous times and called the county child abuse hotline twice, first on Sept. 4 and again on Sept. 17. Nothing happened until Sept. 19, when Family Services finally tracked down the foster parents and Hargrove’s children at an unapproved location, a trailer in Sandy Valley, 50 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

The 17-month-old boy had a 3-inch burn scar on his arm and another large scar on this buttocks, while the 2-month-old baby had infections in every skin fold.

The injury to the 17-month-old boy happened when the foster parents’ 13-year-old son changed the toddler’s diaper outside on a hot day, using a plastic bag as a diaper and a black mini-fridge as a changing table, according to records.

The foster parents in December each pleaded guilty to one count of child neglect or endangerment with substantial bodily harm.

The lawsuit names the foster parents; Anita Moody, who was assigned to investigate an allegation of neglect involving Hargrove’s sons; Lisa Brochu, who was the case manager assigned to oversee the placement and care of the children; Kim Kallas, the social work supervisor supervising Brochu; Lisa Ruiz-Lee, director of Family Services; Paula Hammack, assistant director of Family Services, and other unnamed employees.

The complaint alleges Family Services failed to supervise and conduct monthly meetings with the boys to ensure their safety. They also failed to properly investigate the couple and improperly licensed them, according to the lawsuit.

It also claims Family Services’ administrators failed to train social workers and supervisors on how to investigate prospective foster parents, how to select proper foster parents for children, how to supervise foster children, how to report suspicions of abuse to Child Protective Services, and how to prepare accurate reports for the county and state.

For example, Brochu, who was the assigned case manager, “did not visit the children or the home of (the Hernandezes) as required by applicable policies, which allowed (the foster parents) to violate statutes and administrative codes controlling their licensure as foster parents,” the lawsuit states.

If Brochu “had followed Clark County’s stated procedures, she could have discovered evidence of abuse and violations, and removed (the boys) from this foster home before they could be subjected to continued abuse and neglect.”

Any financial compensation from the case would be placed in a blocked account, and the children wouldn’t have access to the money until they turn 18, said Hauf, who has been involved in other Family Services’ litigation.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.