In February, Clark County Family Services reported that children involved in 55 cases red-flagged by an independent consultant were accounted for and safe.
On Monday, after two months of sifting through child welfare case files, the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services issued a different finding.
“State reviewers determined eight cases needed additional follow up by Clark County Department of Family Services to evaluate the safety of the children,” said the state’s final report, which will be posted on its Web site today.
“Four of the eight cases lacked enough documentation in the information system for the reviewers to determine whether Clark County took appropriate steps to assess the safety of the children,” the report said.
In the other four cases, state reviewers said that Clark County case workers needed to complete new safety assessments or safety plans for the minors. The reviewers found that the cases of concern totaled 53 because two cases had been listed twice.
“Clark County has certainly received the message that things need to change,” said Steve George, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.
The state’s report is the latest development in a controversy that began with a censored consultant’s report. In January, a section of consultant Ed Cotton’s review of 1,352 cases handled by Clark County Family Services in 2006 became public for the first time, detailing 55 cases in which children had been potentially endangered by agency action or inaction.
The backlash was immediate, with Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid and Nevada Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden demanding that Family Services officials revisit the cases.
Clark County Family Services Director Tom Morton said Monday that mistakes might have been made in the rush to complete the task that led to his workers missing the problems highlighted in the state findings.
“I think our staff may have missed things in haste,” Morton said Monday. “They were under pressure to review case files quickly, and they had volumes to go through.”
Morton said that all of the issues raised by the state have been resolved. Only one disagreement existed between the state and Clark County, Morton said. That involved a child who had relocated to California. The state wanted additional information but Clark County had closed the case and lacked jurisdiction to pursue it, Morton said.
“In the end, both parties were satisfied that kids were currently safe,” he said.
The state findings echoed shortcomings within Clark County Family Services that have plagued independent reviewers, child welfare consultants and federal officials in past evaluations of the troubled department.
Case files were incomplete, and documentation was lacking. The summary of the state report said it was clear why the original reviewers had concerns about the cases in question. There was a lack of regular contact between case workers and children, a lack of regular contact between case workers and parents, and a lack of current documentation, state reviewers found.
Changing that, Morton said, is going to require an increase in staffing, better training, an overhaul of department policies and procedures, and the understanding that it will take time to see improvements.
Rewriting policy and procedure is likely to start this summer, Morton said. Commitments from the county and the state have been made for additional staffing to lower caseloads, he said, but many of those positions will not be filled until later this year.
Morton also has worked with the state to acquire the rights to a training program in New York that can be adapted for use in Nevada.
None of that eases the frustrations of child advocate and Family Services critic Donna Coleman, who said that the problems within the Clark County agency involve basic skills and practices of the child welfare profession.
She referred to Cotton’s original report, which indicated that case workers were doing things like interviewing possible child victims in front of alleged perpetrators of abuse.
“They keep doing the same things over and over,” Coleman said. “And they keep making the same mistakes, over and over.”
George said that the matter of improvement and oversight of Clark County Family Services does not end with the state report.
State lawmakers are reviewing proposed legislation that would give the Department of Health and Human Services additional oversight authority over Clark County.
Other bill drafts call for additional legislative oversight of child welfare and the creation of a position within the Legislative Counsel Bureau to conduct reviews of open child welfare cases.