March 28, 2008
The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and co-counsel have renewed their motion for class certification in Clark K. v. Willden, a lawsuit seeking broad reform of the child welfare system in Clark County (Las Vegas), Nevada. The motion, filed March 28 in Nevada US District Court, cites additional and overwhelming evidence of the harm suffered by children in the system, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, denial of medical and mental health care, and chronic instability. In the most tragic cases, children have lost their lives while in the care or under the protection of the Clark County Department of Family Services (DFS). More than 49 children have died since January, 2003, 12 of them in the first half of 2007 alone.
“It is a system that Tom Morton, Director of Clark County DFS describes as a “crippled child welfare system,” … that has been “designated by federal officials as the ‘worst child welfare system’ in the nation,” the motion said.
If granted, the motion will allow NCYL’s lawsuit to proceed as a class action on behalf of all children in or at risk of entering the child welfare system in Clark County.
Plaintiffs filed their initial motion for class certification in November 2006, three months after filing the original complaint in federal court. In May 2007, Judge Jones deferred ruling on their request and directed that further discovery be conducted to determine if the experiences of the named plaintiffs were common and typical among other children in the foster care system. Plaintiffs’ discovery over the following 10 months produced overwhelming evidence that the harms suffered by named plaintiffs and the risks to which they were exposed in foster care permeated the County’s foster care system.
Specifically, NCYL found that:
- Nearly half the children in the child welfare system are not receiving the services they need to meet their physical and mental health needs.
- Nearly half of children who entered foster care between October 1, 2000 and September 30, 2006 were shuttled through three or more placements during their time in foster care.
- Caseworkers are unqualified, untrained and unsupervised, burdened with overwhelming caseloads of 39 cases per worker. The generally accepted professional standard is 15 to 18 cases per worker.
- DFS routinely fails to investigate reports of abuse or neglect. A review of more than 1,300 cases by an outside expert reveals that safety assessments were not completed in almost half of the cases, and investigators’ determinations as to whether abuse actually occurred were wrong in 66 percent of the cases.
- Foster parents are not adequately trained or supported and often do not have critical information about the children in their homes. In a recent survey of foster parents, more than 40 percent said that caseworkers did not inform them of children’s behavioral needs prior to placement, and about one-third said that they did not receive sufficient information about the child’s medical history or educational needs.
- The vast majority of children in Clark County are not provided with a guardian ad litem or attorney. Of those who are, most do not receive this representation until well after many critical decisions are made about their lives.
NCYL’s co-counsel in the case are Farella Braun +Martel of San Francisco, and Wolfenzon Schulman & Ryan of Las Vegas, San Diego, Reno and Phoenix.
To see a copy of the motion, go to: http://www.youthlaw.org