State, county work to resolve capacity issue at Child Haven

Nevada officials are working with Clark County Department of Family Services to increase Child Haven’s capacity for the second time in five months.

Clark County’s emergency shelter for abused and neglected children saw its latest surge in population last week when it was housing 97 residents, exceeding its state-approved capacity of 70.

Latisha Brown, state child care licensing manager, said Thursday that county officials didn’t notify her office when the shelter exceeded its capacity, and she was not aware of the problem until contacted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She called county officials earlier this week to investigate why the shelter is operating beyond its licensed limit.

State officials need to and want to work with Child Haven to ensure children’s safety, she added.

“The state, again, understands that Child Haven is an emergency shelter,” she said, adding that the shelter can’t turn away children.

Officials are exploring the possibility of increasing the shelter’s capacity to 95 or 100, Brown said. There’s additional space that county officials are looking to use, she said.

However, a state surveyor would need to inspect the area, and no date has been set for that to take place, Brown said.

County officials are in compliance with the staff-to-resident ratios set for the shelter, she said. Brown also noted that about 25 children staying at Child Haven were school-aged.

Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa, who last week said county officials always notify state officials of large increases in the shelter’s population, on Friday said Jolie Courtney, who oversees Child Haven, was out of town when the shelter’s population went over capacity during Thanksgiving week. Courtney returned to work on Dec. 1, and that’s when state officials were informed, he said.

“In the future, if they go over capacity they will designate someone else to alert the state,” he said.

On Friday, there were 72 children staying at the shelter, according to Pappa.

So far this year, the average length of stay for children at Child Haven is 9.49 days, according to Pappa. However, county officials didn’t provide requested information on how long the children now at the shelter have been there.

“It is not the department’s (Family Services) goal to accommodate more children at the shelter,” he said. “However, if we should see an influx of children during the next holiday, we are prepared to ensure they are cared for appropriately.”

County officials wouldn’t say how many staff members now work at Child Haven or how many have been recently transferred to the shelter from other Family Services’ areas. “The department continues to ensure we meet licensing requirements for staff-to-child ratios,” Pappa said, without providing specific information.

Brown said county officials have not contacted her regarding a licensing waiver for Child Haven. But Pappa said county officials have been in contact with Amber Howell, administrator for the state’s Division of Child and Family Services.

Howell didn’t return a call for comment late Friday.

The waiver sought for the shelter would eliminate the bed cap at the Child Haven campus, Pappa said.

In the past, trends of high population at the shelter have raised federal concerns, such as when the number of residents at Child Haven reached 164 in 2006.

The average number of children staying at Child Haven is usually about 25.

The latest surge had to do with more children being displaced during the holidays, which tend to be a stressful time for families and when domestic violence issues surface, Pappa said last week. Many more families also need assistance and it’s more difficult to place children in foster homes right before the holidays.

In July, Nevada’s child-care licensing unit increased Child Haven’s capacity from 56 to 70 after the shelter’s population began to rise in April, when it hit 83.

The spring spike in population at the shelter was attributed to an increase in vacationing foster families that needed a place to leave their foster children. An increase in child abuse reporting and investigations, and the need for foster parents were also cited as contributing factors.

The Review-Journal later found out that children were also being dropped off at Child Haven without notice by their caregivers.

“Since focusing on the issues, we have seen a consistent decline in these areas,” Pappa said of foster parents going on vacation and dropping children off, and children being dropped off without notice.

A letter about how to deal with foster children and traveling plans should be distributed to foster parents by the end of the year, he said.

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