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Nevada Buries Mistakes

November 19, 2005 permalink

Nevada also conceals deaths of children. Aside from investigative reports such as this one, the social services system uses the confidentiality pretext to limit reports of deaths to those cases where they returned children to parents who killed them. We remind you again that a dead child cannot suffer emotional harm from disclosure.



Colleen McCarty, Investigative Reporter

Children Lost in The System

Nov 19, 2005 06:36 AM

Nevada DCFS

The former head of the state Division of Child and Family Services once said she suspects Nevada is number one in the nation for deaths of children involved with child protective services. It turns out she may be right. The Channel 8 I-Team has learned DCFS has conducted a five-year review of child deaths in Clark County. And the numbers are alarming.

The head of Nevada's Human Resources Division tells the I-Team more than 100 children known to the system have died in Clark County over the last five years. The review, scheduled to be completed later this month, includes families with Child Protective Services cases and children in the juvenile justice and mental health systems. For several months now, the I-Team has tried to learn more about what happened to some of these kids, with no luck -- kids like Jushai Spurgeon.

Inside a home in North Las Vegas, 14-month-old Jushai Spurgeon lived with his foster mother, 58-year-old Sallye Johnson, her adopted 12-year-old daughter and his four siblings, all under the age of seven. Eyewitness News has learned on April 3rd of this year, Johnson took a sixth foster child to the hospital. Leaving Jushai and his 4 brothers and sisters alone with the 12-year-old.

We can't tell you exactly what happened next, because the Clark County Department of Family Services and the North Las Vegas Police Department refuse to release the records. But we do know Jushai died that night from thermal burns due to scalding.

Bill Grimm with the National Center for Youth Law says, "The agency has a lot to hide here. Children have died with open CPS cases, children have died in foster care and Mr. Reilly and director Susan Klein-Rothchild don't want the public to know that those things have happened on their watch."

Grimm and Donna Coleman, a child advocate, began questioning Clark County and the State Division of Child and Family services before Jushai's death. Using public records requests, the two asked for information about all child deaths in Clark County, including Jushai's.

"I think they just don't want anybody involved in their business but them. They think they know best how to handle things and they don't want the community involved in it and they don't want other eyes involved in it," Coleman says.

At issue, whether a federal law requiring the release of child death records supersedes Nevada rulings that prevent it. In September, the Las Vegas Sun, joined by Eyewitness News , sued to get the records of Adacelli Snyder, a 2-year-old who starved to death. Judge Stew Bell ruled the records would not be released.

"I'm kind of the issue that if a child dies, I'm not sure who we protect. I think the more information out there. Clearly if we're going to deal with abuse and neglect, we need to have more eyes and ears out there," says Clark County manager Thom Reilly.

Reilly asked the district attorney's office to petition the court for further clarification as to what information can be released. More than two months have passed and a hearing has yet to be scheduled. In the meantime, concerned by the increase in the number of kids who are dying, the State Department of Child and Family services began a review of Clark County death cases over the last five years.

Eyewitness News has learned preliminary estimates show more than a hundred local kids known to the system have died. Kids like Jushai.

State Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley says, "One child death is unacceptable and I think we need to look at it. And there's certain things we need to do right away. The first is to lift this cloud of secrecy over these files. Let's find out what happened to these children and what could've been done to prevent it."

The state review of Clark County is scheduled to be released later this month and with it the concrete numbers. We're told more than a 100 have died, but that number may grow in the final analysis. The State will also announce a blue ribbon commission to get to the root of the problem and work to prevent more children from dying.

Contact Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty

Source: KLAS TV