A blue ribbon committee on Thursday afternoon announced six proposed points of reform for Clark County’s child welfare and court system, including increased services to reduce removals of children from their homes, more training for staff and foster parents, a streamlined court calendar and the creation of a public education and awareness program.
The committee, formed by Nevada Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta, is expected to finalize the proposed reforms in the coming months. After that, it will continue to meet to oversee implementation, conducting a review of the reforms and hearing from those on the front lines, such as caseworkers, foster parents and children’s attorneys.
During that second phase, it will also look at county and state child welfare policies and procedures, Saitta said. The goal is to enact the reforms within 120 days.
“While we have a lot of work yet ahead of us, we are pleased today to be able to announce several significant goals or objectives for reform that the commission has determined must be implemented as soon as possible,” Saitta said during the public meeting.
The first point of reform addresses the child welfare case process. One family would work with one caseworker and one judge to resolve issues. This reform point also calls for possible reductions in caseloads per worker to meet national standards.
The committee will also “initiate an outside assessment of skill level, training and management of child welfare agency staff.” It will closely monitor the use of emergency shelters and group homes and will recruit quality foster parents, Saitta said.
The second point addresses court process reform, which would include streamlining the court calendar, having an immediate court review of children who are removed from their homes, and obtaining new technology to enhance the court process.
The third point of reform would increase the use of in-home services to avoid removing children from their parents, increasing the use of relative placement and continuing the implementation of a safety intervention model.
Under the fourth point of reform, the committee would require the early appointment of legal counsel for children and parents.
The fifth point of reform would establish multidisciplinary training for everyone in the child welfare system, and would better monitor and train foster parents, among other improvements.
The last point of reform calls for a public education and awareness program to highlight the positive accomplishments in the system.
“We embarked on a very aggressive agenda,” Saitta said. “We had 120 days and we decided we had to identify how we could do a better job for our kids and our families.”
Some of those reforms are able to be implemented immediately, Saitta said. But the committee decided that it must look at how each of the reforms will have an impact and how they will create change.
Barbara Buckley, a committee member and executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, said all the points for reform were strong.
“The six areas, I think, reflect the concerns brought to us by all the witnesses,” she said.
At this time, it doesn’t appear that statutory changes are needed, Saitta said.
“However, as we continue the work of the commission, we will remain cognizant of the need that somewhere down the road there will be changes for our reform, and we, as a commission, will support those changes,” she said.
Family Court Judge Frank Sullivan was glad the committee will continue its work.
“Recommendations are useless without implementation,” he said.
A phase III for quality assurance is also needed to ensure that the changes are actually happening, as well as to make sure the progress continues, Sullivan added. “With turnover, they (staff) go back to the old ways.”
Contact Yesenia Amaro at email@example.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.