Twelve current and former foster children in Las Vegas (Clark County), Nevada have filed an amended complaint in U.S. District Court highlighting major deficiencies in the county’s child welfare system. In the case of Henry A. v. Willden, plaintiffs once again seek reform as well as money damages from the state and the county.
The filing of the amended complaint July 20, comes on the heels of a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in May which reversed the District Court's dismissal of the original lawsuit. The Ninth Circuit upheld plaintiffs’ claims that foster children have a “clearly established due process right to adequate safety and medical care” and that the District Court was “plainly wrong” when it concluded that defendants in the case – Clark County, and county and state child welfare officials – were entitled to qualified immunity against plaintiffs’ claims. The Court also held that the connection drawn by plaintiffs between the harms they suffered and the state’s liability was insufficient, plaintiffs should have had an opportunity to amend their complaint to strengthen that connection. The amended complaint filed in July more fully describes state defendants’ responsibilities to oversee the county’s child welfare system and train caseworkers.
The amended complaint also alleges that state defendants knew about the failures and deficiencies of Clark County’s foster care system, as detailed in numerous reports written, commissioned, and received by Nevada state officials over many years. One focus of the lawsuit has been defendants’ failure to ensure that foster childrens’ medical records and other documentation are shared with foster parents as required by law. The sharing of such information can help potential foster parents assess whether they are capable of caring for a child. In one report, commissioned by Nevada’s Division of Child and Family Services, foster parents reported that they did not receive sufficient background information about the child in 67 percent of the cases reviewed; that same month, 72 percent of foster parents surveyed said they had to request that a child be removed for reasons related to the provision of inadequate information.
The lawsuit also focuses on defendants’ failure to provide adequate medical care and mental health services. The amended complaint cites a 2010 federal case review indicating that only 54 percent of foster children in Clark County received services adequate to meet their physical and mental health needs. It also describes what happened when state authorities conducted audits of several state and county child care and foster care facilities in 2011. Among other things, auditors found medication files that were missing important documentation; physician orders to change medications that were not followed; evidence that a youth was given incorrect dosages of a prescription drug for more than two months; and, in one facility, an empty syringe on the floor.
On August 20, defendants filed a second round of motions to dismiss the case. A hearing on these motions has yet been scheduled.