Judges face rising tide of parental rights termination cases

A mentally ill mother, her abusive husband and their infant.

Child Protective Services was contacted the day the baby was born.

The mother insisted the newborn wasn’t hers. Authorities placed her on a Legal 2000 , a hold of up to 72 hours that’s issued when a person is considered a danger to themselves or others.

Three months later, the mother appeared at a local hospital claiming her baby was speaking in full sentences and told her that he had an earache. The mother was again placed on a Legal 2000 and the baby was removed from her custody.

A few months later, the father violently attacked the mother.

“Doors were kicked in. Blood was everywhere. The mother’s thumb was cut. Hair was pulled out of the mother’s head. Her head had to be stapled closed,” said Clark County Family Court Judge Frank Sullivan on April 28 during a trial for termination of parental rights. It was the third day of the hearing.

In testimony, the father blamed the mother for the child being removed from his care.

His attack on the mother wasn’t his first violent act. He is now serving time in a state correctional facility for battery with use of a deadly weapon.

On April 28, Sullivan terminated the father’s parental rights, finding clear and convincing evidence that it would be in the best interest of the child. To protect case confidentiality, the names of those involved were withheld.

Cases involving the termination of parental rights — an issue that’s drawn legislative attention in the form of a bill that calls for judges in such cases to consider the length of time a child has been in foster care — are piling up in Clark County Family Court. At any given time, the court averages about 300 open cases involving termination of parental rights.

Child welfare cases are coming in faster than Family Court can handle and are creating a backlog, according to a March report from a blue ribbon committee appointed by Nevada Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta to examine shortcomings in Clark County’s child welfare system and court. The Clark County Department of Family Services concurred with that finding.

In fiscal year 2014, Family Services took 2,531 children into protective custody, according to Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa. That equates to five children removed from their families per every 1,000 children in the county.

Under state law, if a child has been in foster care for 14 of 20 consecutive months, the agency should include termination of parental rights in the child’s permanent placement plan. The exceptions for that are when the child is in the care of a relative; Family Services hasn’t made the required reasonable efforts to reunify the family, or compelling reasons exist that show termination of parental right would not be in the best interest of the child.

A hearing for permanent placement has to take place within 12 months of a child’s removal from the home, according to state law.

FIGHTING FOR RIGHTS

Sullivan agreed that the caseload is increasing. But it’s not really a backlog, he said. Delays are caused by a rising number of parents challenging the termination of their rights. Only judges are able to hear contested cases because hearing masters don’t have that authority.

On average, each of the three Family Court dependency judges carries about 100 termination of parental rights cases, Sullivan said.

Family Court started seeing more contested cases a few years ago. Sullivan believes it’s due to a 2010 policy he implemented that calls for appointing an attorney for parents fighting to retain their rights.

The court’s goal is to try to resolve termination of parental rights cases in 90 days. But there can be complications. About 90 percent of the time, Family Court can’t find the parents involved.

The court must then file a notice in the newspaper for four consecutive weekends. The attempt to make parents aware of the pending case means it takes about three months to schedule a court date.

If parents appear in court, judges can decide that same day whether to terminate parental rights. If the move to terminate rights is challenged, the court will appoint an attorney for the parents and set a trial date, Sullivan explained. That takes another 90 days.

From January to April, it took an average of 6.3 months, or 191 days, to resolve such cases.

In some cases, parents choose to relinquish their rights and agree to an open adoption.

The court pays close attention to cases where the child is adopted by a family member and whether terminating parental rights is the best way to go about it.

“If they are with grandma, why terminate the mother’s parental rights?” Sullivan asked. “Why not have grandma get a guardianship? Because you know what’s going to happen, grandma is going to let mom see the kid. I don’t care if mom sees the kid, grandma can protect the kid.”

The guardianship can be set aside if the parent improves. Family Services would investigate the parent and provide a report to the judge within 45 days.

“That might be a better way to go, and of course, would take the load off those (termination of parental rights cases),” he said.

But that’s rare because financial assistance is only available for adoptions, not guardianship cases.

Funding guardianship subsidies is something Sullivan is looking at with the blue ribbon committee. The idea would need legislative approval.

A best practice under the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is not to terminate parental rights when a child is placed with a family member, Sullivan added.

LEGISLATIVE SPOTLIGHT

Senate Bill 303, sponsored by Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, spotlights the issue of parental rights termination from a different perspective. The bill calls for judges to consider the length of time a child has been out of the home and away from the parents.

It was spurred by the story of a 5-year-old foster child who spent most of her life in the care of foster parents who wanted to adopt her. But in February, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered that the child be returned to the biological family.

“This isn’t the only story, but there were numerous other stories just like that,” Hammond recently said. “I think (the bill is) good for the longevity of a child’s welfare.”

The bill is strongly supported by foster parents and the Clark County Department of Family Services.

But Sullivan said judges already consider those factors. He said foster parents don’t often understand that there also has to be clear and convincing evidence of parental fault in addition to what’s in the best interest of a child.

In the case Sullivan heard on April 28, a key element of parental fault was the father’s domestic violence history.

But not all cases are as clear cut when it comes to demonstrating parental fault. On May 1, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed a Family Court ruling to terminate the parental rights of a young Clark County couple by saying that substantial evidence didn’t support parental fault, according to court documents.

The child, identified as “V.H.W.,” was taken from her teenage parents after suffering two skull fractures. The parents, who appealed, insisted one of the mother’s relatives caused the injuries.

The parents had successfully completed their case plan, but Family Court relied on the parents’ failure to complete additional counseling — that was never included in their case plan by Family Services — as well as the parents’ inability to explain the child’s injuries. Family Services also failed to interview all of the relatives the parents were living with when the child was injured. The Supreme Court also found that Family Court had abused its discretion in this case.

Family Court is doing a better job at getting children out of the system, Sullivan said. Additional judicial officers, which the blue ribbon committee is considering, would help.

“I think the real problem is the number of kids coming in,” Sullivan said. “Are we unnecessarily removing children?”

Family Services has a $3 million, three-year contract with Action for Child Protection, a North Carolina-based nonprofit, to help the agency implement a safety intervention model that’s supposed to lead to fewer children being removed from their homes.

The agency hasn’t fully implemented the safety model yet, Pappa said. But it’s not about reaching a number, he added.

“The actual removal rate will ebb and flow based upon the specifics of the cases we are handling,” he said.

On May 4, Family Court started implementing the safety model in preliminary protective hearings, which are held 72 hours after a child is removed from a home.

“Are we ready to do it? No, but the fact is, I’m not going to wait until it’s perfect,” Sullivan said. “I’m not going to wait until we get it perfect because that never happens.”

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

ad-high_impact_4
News
Nye County detectives pursue suspects
A swarm of Nye County deputies, at the request of Las Vegas police, surrounded a hotel room in Pahrump last week to take two fugitives into custody. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Taxpayer-funded LVCVA boss negotiating exit pay despite criminal investigation
CEO Rossi Ralenkotter is the third-highest-paid public official in the state He has a pay and benefits package valued at $863,000 annually. Ralenkotter does not have an employment contract He announced his retirement in mid June, amid a scandal over airline gift cards LVCVA bought $90,000 in Southwest Airline gift cards between 2012 and 2017. Now auditors can’t account for more than $50,000 of the cards. Ralenkotter and his family used $16,207 in gift cards on 56 trips. Brig Lawson, the senior director of business partnerships, was responsible for buying and distributing the cards. He recently resigned. Ralenkotter's retirement settlement package could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Bicyclists ride empty Interstate 11 before it opens Aug. 9
Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition sponsored a 25-mile ride on the yet-to-be-opened Interstate 11 to highlight bicycle and motorist safety. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul Fronczak on his search for truth
Paul Fronczak, man mistaken for stolen baby in 1964, talks about the long search for his twin sister and the real Paul. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
1 dead after shooting near Sahara and the Strip in Las Vegas
Lt. Ray Spencer briefs the news media on a shooting at Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South that left one dead. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
2 in custody after chase
Two people were in custody after a chase involving Nevada Highway Patrol and Nye County Sheriff"s office deputies ended in southwest Las Vegas. Las Vegas police blocked off Rainbow Boulevard north of Tropicana Avenue around 1 a.m. Wednesday. Law enforcement personnel prepared to tow a black sedan as part of their investigation. It's not certain what precipitated the chase or where and when it started. Check back for updates.
Police Officer's Vehicle Was Taken During Shooting
Video from body worn camera footage released by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Wednesday shows an officer realizing his police vehicle has been taken during the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. It was later recovered at Sunrise hospital with the keys in the ignition and nothing removed. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
See Kitty Hawk’s flying car cruise over Lake Las Vegas
Kitty Hawk takes their flying car for a ride in the company’s hidden test facility in Lake Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Las Vegas police wild pursuit through busy Las Vegas streets
An intense chase near Downtown Las Vegas ends after gunfire is exchanged as the suspect flees on busy streets and ends up near an elementary school. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Man shot strolling through park
A man was hospitalized early Tuesday morning after being shot while walking in a central Las Vegas park. Las Vegas police say the man and a woman were in Molasky Park just after midnight when the man was shot. The pair ran to a nearby supermarket where a security guard called for help. The man was hospitalized and as of 3 a.m. was in stable condition. Police have yet to identify the shooter and no suspects are in custody.
Police investigating shooting at east valley apartment complex
No one was injured late Monday night after someone fired shots at a vehicle at an east valley apartment complex. Police responded just before midnight to the Hamptons Apartments, 3070 S. Nellis Blvd. Someone fired shots at a vehicle that was leaving the complex, and struck the vehicle. Another bullet struck a nearby apartment building. The shooter or shooters remain at-large.
Suspect fires at Las Vegas police before officers shoot, end wild pursuit
An intense chase near Downtown Las Vegas ends after gunfire is exchanged as the suspect flees on busy streets and ends up near an elementary school. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Hundreds Attend Slides, Rides and Rock and Roll in North Las Vegas
Hundreds attended the inaugural slides, rides and rock and roll event in North Las Vegas Saturday. The event featured a car show, water slide park and live music. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It's All Rainbows At The Center's New Cafe
The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada (The Center) introduced its new coffeeshop, Little Rainbow Cafe, in June. Rainbows are everywhere, even in the lattes and toast, and employees wear t-shirts with the quote "Be a rainbow in someone's cloud." Owner Ben Sabouri said the concept is "built around the idea of, you know, be kind and treat everybody the same." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get a Rainbow Latte at the The Center's Little Rainbow Cafe
The Center, a community center for the LGBTQ community of Southern Nevada, has a new cafe. Little Rainbow Cafe serves up a pride-inspired signature "Rainbow Latte." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed trying to cross Sahara
A pedestrian was killed Friday trying to cross Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway about 5 a.m. A sedan struck the pedestrian while the person was outside the crosswalk between Maryland Parkway and Pardee Place, according to Las Vegas police. Police also said the driver of the sedan remained at the site of the crash. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene. This is the 75th fatal crash that Las Vegas police have investigated in 2018.
Man shot multiple times
Las Vegas police are investigating after a man was shot multiple times early Friday morning. The shooting was called in about 3:20 a.m. at the Harbor Island Apartments, 370 E. Harmon Ave., near Koval Lane. The man was hospitalized and is expected to survive, but police are still searching for the shooter.
Former Military Police Corps Officer Celebrates 100th Birthday
Summerlin resident Gene Stephens, who served as a military policeman in WWII and escorted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Roosevelt during the war, turned 100 on July 13, 2018. He credits his longevity to living a normal life, exercising regularly and eating three square meals a day. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries
A motorcycle rider was seriously injured Tuesday night after a crash on Charleston Boulevard. The crash was reported just before 10 p.m. near Durango Drive, according to Las Vegas police. The motorcyclist was hospitalized with unknown injuries but is expected to survive. Las Vegas police are investigating the cause of the accident.
CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara Has Lunch With Students
New Clark County School District superintendent Jesus Jara continued his listening tour by having lunch with students at Red Rock Elementary School as part of the district's summer lunch program. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 18 can find a free lunch at 104 different locations across the valley through the summer months. Jara highlighted the free program and the importance of eating healthy during his visit. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Timeline Leading Up to Scott Dozier's Execution
Scott Dozier is set to be executed by lethal injection the night of July 11 at Ely State Prison. Dozier was convicted of the April 2002 killing of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller and was given the death penalty in Oct. 2007. In 2016 Dozier asked in a letter to District Judge Jennifer Togliatti requesting that he “be put to death.” A three-drug cocktail of midazolam, a sedative; the painkiller fentanyl; and cisatracurium, a paralytic, is expected to end his life. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Program Helps Mothers Battling Addiction
Jennifer Stanert has battled drug addiction on and off for the last 21 years. It caused her to lose custody of one of her children, Alec, after she gave birth while high. A new program at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospitals aims to connect mothers like Stanert with community resources and provide case management services while still pregnant to get connected to lactation and parenting classes, group peer support and education on neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Felon caught with guns in Mandalay Bay room 3 years before Las Vegas shooting
A felon was caught with guns in a Mandalay Bay hotel room three years before the October 1st mass shooting. Six weapons were found inside Kye Aaron Dunbar’s 24th floor room in November 2014. Four were semi-automatic. One was a scoped rifle pointing toward the Strip, according to court documents. Dunbar was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for unlawful possession. The case just came to light in a lawsuit accusing Mandalay Bay of negligence in connection with the Oct. 1st shooting.
Illegal fireworks in the Las Vegas area garner complaints
Clark County received nearly 25,000 complaints over the Independence Day holiday on a new illegal fireworks site. Reports from the site led to at least 10 illegal fireworks busts across the valley overnight. As of Thursday morning, the county is still compiling the total number of citations issued.
House fire displaces 2 people
Two people were displaced after a house fire early Thursday morning. The fire, at 963 Temple Drive in east Las Vegas, was reported just after midnight, according to a battalion chief from the Clark County Fire Department. Crews from the North Las Vegas and Las Vegas fire departments also were called in to help. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Red White and Boom" July 4 Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Full video of the Fourth of July "Red White and Boom" fireworks show at the Stratosphere as seen from the 8th floor Elation Pool. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite. (7-04-18) (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Crowds Enjoy Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Revelers enjoyed watching fireworks displays from the Stratosphere's 8th floor Elation pool on July 4. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed in Henderson
A pedestrian trying to cross St. Rose Parkway at Bermuda was hit by a vehicle on Tuesday night and later died. The crash was reported around 11:30 p.m. Las Vegas police responded initially, but handed over the investigation to Henderson police once it was determined the accident happened in their jurisdiction. Las Vegas police did respond to a report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle on the Strip. The person, who was hit by a BMW near Fashion Show mall, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
Local
Nonprofit provides clothing for homeless
Sydney Grover of Can You Spare A Story?, talks about how she founded the non-profit organization. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Restoring classic Corvettes to perfection
Members of the National Corvette Restorers Society Convention talk about what it takes to earn the NCRS Top Flight Award for a restored Corvette at South Point in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
'NO H8' Campaign comes to Las Vegas
Hundreds of locals participate in the NO H8 campaign founded by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley as a response to Proposition 8, a California ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign has since evolved to represent equal treatment for all. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Star Wars and Golden Knights mashup at downtown art shop
Star Wars and Vegas Golden Knights fans attend the Boba Fett Golden Knight Paint Class at The Bubblegum Gallery in Las Vegas, Friday, June 29, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Clark County recount votes in commission’s District E primary
Clark County staff begin the recount requested by candidate Marco Hernandez in the democratic primary for the County Commission's District E seat on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Long-running local hip hop producer wants Vegas rappers to shine
Las Vegas Hip Hop producer and co-owner of Digital Insight Recording Studios Tiger Stylz reflects on 30 years of music production in the city. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Construction for new 51s ballpark underway
New home of the Las Vegas 51s is planned to be finished by March 2019 in Summerlin according to team president Don Logan. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Underground home was built as Cold War-era hideaway
The underground house at 3970 Spencer Street is one of the valley’s most unusual homes built 26 feet underground in 1978 by Girard “Jerry” B. Henderson, who, planned to survive the end of the world there.
Crime
Nye County detectives pursue suspects
A swarm of Nye County deputies, at the request of Las Vegas police, surrounded a hotel room in Pahrump last week to take two fugitives into custody. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Las Vegas judge’s ruling will halt tonight’s execution
On Wednesday Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez issued a ruling that will halt the execution of convicted murderer Scott Dozier. Alvogen Inc., which makes the sedative midazolam, filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the Nevada Department of Corrections of surreptitiously obtaining the drug for use in an execution.
3 people shot in southeast Las Vegas
Three men were shot Thursday night in southeast Las Vegas, and two of them have life threatening injuries. Las Vegas police responded to the incident just after 10 p.m. on the 5000 block of Mountain Vista Street. The investigation is in its early stages and police were unable to describe the suspect or say how man people they think were involved. Police encourage anyone with information regarding this shooting to call Crime Stoppers at 702-385-5555, or 3-1-1
Robbery suspects apprehended
Four robbery suspects were taken into custody Thursday morning after a vehicle and foot chase that ended in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. The incident began when a person was robbed at gunpoint around 4:45 a.m. near Maryland Parkway and Desert Inn. Officers arriving at the scene tried to stop two vehicles. One vehicle escaped but police chased the second into a neighborhood on Flamingo Road near Mountain Vista Street. Police surrounded the neighborhood and the suspects were apprehended. It looked like one police vehicle was involved in a collision with the suspects' car. One woman suffered an unknown injury and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. 01:04
Las Vegas police looking for robbery suspects
Two robbers who recently targeted three Las Vegas businesses remained at large Tuesday and police are asking the public to help identify them. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser gives update of officer-involved shooting
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser provides an update about an officer-involved shooting at Radwick Drive and Owens Avenue in the northeast Las Vegas on Thursday. A robbery suspect was shot and killed. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
LVMPD Looking For Robbery Suspect
The LVMPD Commercial Robbery Section is attempting to identify the pictured suspect who is responsible for committing robberies to businesses in the southern part of the Las Vegas Valley during the month of May 2018. The suspect enters the business, threatens the employee with a firearm and demands money from the register. The employee complies and the suspect flees the business.
North Las Vegas police are investigating a triple shooting that left one man dead
North Las Vegas police are investigating a triple shooting that left one man dead at 2500 block of Ellis St., on Friday, June 8, 2018. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like