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Groups decry representation for children in Nevada

CARSON CITY – Two child advocacy organizations have given Nevada a D grade for its lack of necessary legal representation for abused and neglected children in court cases.

The report by First Star, a Washington, D.C., group working for abused children, and the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego, found half of the states “cheat” abused children of appropriate legal representation while at the same time providing it for their abusers.

“Regrettably, many states still cling to a troubling double-standard that affords the right to counsel to accused abusers while withholding it from abused and neglected children,” said Robert Fellmeth, the Children’s Advocacy Institutes’s executive director.

Nevada received a D score in the report released earlier this month largely because its laws makes it discretionary to appoint a lawyer for the child in an abuse case.

The state’s score also was reduced because many lawyers who are appointed to represent children are not required to go through specialized training designed to help them in such cases. The state law also does not limit the caseloads for attorneys who represent children in such proceedings.

But Assemblyman John Hambrick, a member of legislative and state Supreme Court committees looking into juvenile justice, said Thursday that he and others might propose legislation to guarantee abused children are adequately represented by lawyers.

“It is one of the issues we are looking at,” said Hambrick, R-Las Vegas.

He added the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada now represents abused children in court cases in Clark County.

“There is very little discretion,” Hambrick added. “Hopefully you will see changes (in 2013) to ensure all children are protected.”

More than 695,000 children a year are victims of abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents or guardians, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An estimated 1,560 die.

Nevada was one of six states to earn D grades. Ten states received F’s. California earned a B, while Arizona and Utah got C’s.

Vicki Stearn, a spokeswoman for First Star, said Nevada’s score has improved from an F in her organization’s last survey several years ago.

But Nevada was one of just three states in April to receive perfect A-plus scores from the two child advocacy organizations for its laws to require the public disclosure of incidents where children die or nearly die from abuse or neglect.

The Legislature took steps in the early 2000s to open up reports after studies found many children in Nevada had died from causes that were not always clear while in state custody.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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