Complaints about conditions in Clark County group homes for children prompt investigation

A state lawmaker on Thursday called on Clark County officials to investigate conditions in group homes for foster children and juvenile offenders and was told that a county investigation already is underway.

At a public meeting, Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, detailed conversations last week with parents, advocates and county employees who reported issues ranging from inappropriate touching to the availability of alcohol and tobacco in some homes.

The county employees fear retaliation if they come forward, she said.

Most of the allegations involve facilities operated by A Brighter Day Family Services, Flores said, but those run by Eagle Quest also have been mentioned. Both are foster care entities that operate county-licensed group homes.

“It is starting to paint a very disturbing picture to me,” Flores said at a Las Vegas meeting of the Juvenile Justice and Family Services Policy and Fiscal Affairs Board.

Flores’ concerns were no surprise to county officials. Assistant County Manager Jeff Wells told her the county Department of Family Services is already investigating.

Representatives of foster care agencies named by Flores seemed shaken by the news, however. They said they have had a few hiccups in the past but are now in full compliance.

“We have 60 homes, and our homes are all inspected and in excellent standing,” said Dave Doyle, Eagle Quest director of operations.

He called the allegations “slanderous remarks.”

An example provided by Flores involved an unidentified young woman who wanted to be sent to the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center instead of a group home.

Other examples included girls going two days without access to toilet paper; lack of nutritious food for children with diabetes; and girls being asked to sit on the laps of staff members.

The allegations need to be taken seriously, especially because they deal with foster children who should be protected in the homes, Flores said.

Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said officials do investigate complaints of abuse and neglect and could also look into licensing. Kulin said he could not disclose what prompted the county’s investigation, or say when it was launched.

“We wouldn’t be able to discuss an ongoing investigation,” he said.

Kirby Burgess, executive director at A Brighter Day Family Services, said he takes the issue very seriously.

Burgess retired as director of the county’s juvenile justice department in 2005. He said that in the past he reported concerns about A Brighter Day to the Clark County Department of Juvenile Justice Services, and the agency determined the allegations were unsubstantiated.

Burgess would not detail those allegations but said he has fired or suspended employees at the six foster homes and one group home operated by A Brighter Day.

“If we thought the employee wasn’t doing his or her job, if they contributed to a violation that we self-reported, we relieved that employee of responsibilities,” he said.

Also, he said, A Brighter Day officials had issues late last year at a home for girls because some residents were allowed to go to an alternative public school and the girls brought back contraband, such as cigarettes.

“Through this course of this, we kept (Juvenile Justice Services) informed,” he said. “We invited them to come in and conduct their own inspection.”

The girls are now allowed to take only online classes, Burgess said. The group home has the capacity to serve eight girls and is licensed by Family Services.

Three or four years ago, Eagle Quest closed one foster home because it was dirty.

“We had some concerns and we addressed them immediately,” Doyle said. “Since then we’ve made huge strides of improvement. Our homes are very clean.”

Lisa Ruiz-Lee, the county’s director of Family Services, would not discuss the investigation but said such allegations should be taken with “utmost seriousness.”

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.