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Las Vegas Child Protectors Sued
April 19, 2010 permalink
The National Center for Youth Law, based in Oakland California, has filed a lawsuit against the social services system of Clark County (Las Vegas) Nevada. Another group, Children's Rights Inc, has been suing other states for decades with similar claims, which turn out to be a form of collusion with social services — the settlements always provide for more money for foster care, less power for mom and dad, and a payment from the state the cover the expense to Children's Rights of conducting the litigation. As far as we know, this is the first entry of NCYL into this kind of litigation, so there is no way to tell whether it will have the same counterproductive outcome. The complaint identifies the plaintiffs by pseudonyms, but this time the stories in the complaint come from foster and adoptive parents, not CPS insiders.
Perusing the complaint (pdf) gives an inside look at the routine abuses in Nevada's child protection system, and most other child protection systems as well.
- Henry A., age 11, has been in custody since the age of four. Henry was physically abused by his mother, including being locked in the trunk of her car. DFS placed Henry back with his mother, only to later return him to foster care. Henry suffers from severe mental health problems, but any treatment he received was repeatedly discontinued and disrupted because Defendants moved him to more than forty different placements, and assigned him six or seven different caseworkers (including one who had not completed basic training), He has had to change mental health providers more than ten times, and DFS has often failed to forward information regarding his mental health and treatment history to his new providers. Henry has been administered psychotropic medications, many at the same time. In May 2009, when M.J. met with caseworkers to decide whether to take Henry into her home, M.J. was told only that Henry “might” have ADHD, and that he no longer needed a higher level of care. M.J. only learned that Henry was on medications when she picked him up and was given a bag containing Adderall, Abilify, Trileptal, and other prescription drugs. When he arrived in M.J.’s home, Henry was aggressive and threatening. It was only after M.J. brought Henry to meet with a psychiatrist that she learned of Henry’s history of psychiatric problems and erratic behaviors. Henry’s aggressive behavior continued, and he was eventually admitted to two psychiatric facilities. Henry has not been returned to M.J.’s care. In June 2009, Henry fell gravely ill after being poisoned by the combination of psychotropic medications. Henry was hospitalized in an ICU for two weeks and nearly suffered organ failure. Upon his discharge Henry was again administered psychotropic medications. He again fell gravely ill and spent two more weeks in treatment. During Henry’s time in custody, caseworkers rarely visited him.
- Charles B., age nine, and Charlotte B., age one, are siblings. They have been in custody since March 2009. Defendants refused to place them with their grandmother, despite an obligation to place foster children with relatives when safe and appropriate placements are available, despite a court order requiring that these children be placed with their grandmother, and despite their grandmother being ready, willing, and able to provide them a safe and appropriate placement. Instead, Defendants placed Charles and Charlotte in a foster home in which the foster mother and her teenaged son abused them, including by locking Charlotte in a closet without food and water for long periods of time in a soiled diaper and beating Charles when he tried to help Charlotte. The Las Vegas police ultimately removed the children from that foster home and brought them to a hospital for treatment. At the hospital, Charlotte was found to be suffering from dehydration, bruises on her forehead, cuts on both legs, and diaper rash so severe that her buttocks were ulcerated and bleeding. The foster mother has been charged with child abuse, and her son has pleaded guilty to assault. In the twelve months since they entered custody, Charles and Charlotte have been in at least seventeen placements, including multiple single-night placements at Child Haven, a shelter for abused and neglected children. In 2009, Charles was placed on Adderall and Ritalin. Charles’s psychiatrist prescribed these drugs for ADHD, instead of treating Charles with behavioral approaches, based on nothing more than the request of a foster mother who had only known Charles for a matter of weeks. These medications were not medically necessary and subjected Charles to risk of serious harm. Charlotte, who was less than a year old at the time, was administered asthma medications even though she does not have asthma. Both children were medicated at the request of foster parents, rather than as a result of assessments and examinations by qualified health professionals. During Charles and Charlotte’s time in Defendants’ custody, Defendants’ caseworkers rarely visited them.
- Linda E. is a seventeen-year-old girl who has been in custody for over fifteen years. Linda has been in more than forty different foster care settings, including many inappropriate and dangerous placements in which she suffered abuse and neglect. For example, Defendants placed Linda in the home of an aunt where she had previously suffered abuse. Linda reported this abuse to her caseworker, but her circumstances did not improve. She was also left at a psychiatric facility for six months because Defendants failed to identify an appropriate placement for her. It was not until the 2008–2009 school year—her junior year in high school that she was able to complete an entire grade in the same school. Linda and been administered multiple psychotropic drugs.
- Leo and Victor C. are seventeen-year-old twins who have been in custody since November 2006. Defendants at first repeatedly refused to place the brothers in the care of their grandmother, who was ready, willing, and able to provide a safe and appropriate placement for them. Instead, Defendants shuttled the brothers between their father’s house and the home of their mother and her boyfriend, where they were repeatedly abused. The boys were eventually abandoned at Child Haven. Defendants took no steps to arrange psychiatric treatment in response to repeated suicidal threats made by Victor. Additionally, after Victor’s needs and symptoms escalated to the point where he had to be hospitalized twice, Defendants failed to arrange for Victor to receive follow-up treatment by a psychiatrist
- Delia, Maizy, and Jonathan D. are siblings. Two-year-old Delia has been in custody since March 2008. Maizy, age five, and Jonathan, age four, were in custody from late 2005 until August 2009, after which they were adopted by S.W. Delia, Maizy, and Jonathan have multiple medical problems and developmental delays. Defendants placed the children in Child Haven as infants, where they did not receive even basic care to meet their medical and nutritional needs. Instead of feeding the children age-appropriate food, the staff at Child Haven kept the children on an inadequate formula diet and failed to adjust the feeding techniques after observing the children regurgitate their food on numerous occasions. Both Maizy and Jonathan were left in their cribs for the majority of their days at Child Haven with limited interaction with adults and other children and few opportunities for exercise or physical development. As a result of this neglect, both children were diagnosed with failure to thrive, a diagnosis made when children are consistently underweight due to environmental and social factors. At the time of the children’s placement with her, S.W. was given little information about their history, background, or special needs. Defendants have actively impeded S.W. from obtaining urgently needed medical treatment for Jonathan and Delia, including neglecting to return calls and failing to provide authorization for at least three necessary procedures. Left untreated, these conditions became so severe that doctors determined they could proceed with the procedures on an emergency basis without Defendants’ authorization. As a result of Defendants’ failure to provide medical treatment when it was urgently needed, Jonathan and Delia have ongoing complications. Jonathan’s colon is now misshapen and needs to be surgically corrected as a result of Defendants’ delay in authorizing treatment to remove a calcified stool from his impacted colon. Delia has also had to undergo emergency surgery to remove a tumor located behind her eye. This surgery was delayed because of Defendants’ failure to provide her with necessary and timely medical care, and Delia is now undergoing chemotherapy as a follow-up to the surgery.
- Olivia G., age nine, has been in custody since January 2006. During 2005, Defendants received multiple reports that Olivia and her siblings were being abused, but they did not remove Olivia and her siblings from their parents’ care until almost a year after the initial report. Olivia was placed with a series of relatives, but Defendants made no effort to determine whether those relatives were able to provide appropriate care for her or to monitor the care she received in the relative homes. Olivia suffered abuse in those homes, including multiple incidents where she was beaten with a belt. She has been diagnosed as suffering from severely impaired neuropsychological functioning and a range of cognitive and behavioral impairments. Olivia has been administered powerful multiple psychotropic medications. In April 2009, Defendants placed Olivia with E.F. but failed to provide E.F. with all the information and authorizations required to obtain Olivia’s prescriptions. As a result, Olivia was forced to go through an abrupt, medically contraindicated withdrawal from powerful psychotropic medications.
- Christine F. is a three-year-old girl who has been in custody since May 2008. Christine is a medically fragile child who is severely developmentally delayed and who suffers from permanent disabilities and a seizure disorder. Christine was hospitalized at University Medical Center after falling out of a second-story window at the home of her mother, grandmother, and two uncles. Despite suspicious marks around her ankles, suggesting that someone had held her out the window by her ankles before dropping her, or had swung her by her legs into a wall, DFS did not investigate the incident and did not take custody of Christine until her parents refused to authorize medically necessary treatments to remedy Christine’s injuries. Approximately six weeks after Christine was medically ready for discharge from the hospital, Defendants finally placed her in the custody of E.F. Defendants failed to provide E.F. with Christine’s seizure medications and offered almost no support or training on how to care for Christine’s extensive special needs. Defendants have failed to provide Christine with regular medical care or therapeutic services, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy. County DFS also allowed Christine’s grandmother, who County DFS knew to have a history of child abuse allegations made against her and who was watching over Christine when she fell from the window, to have unsupervised visits with Christine in her own home.
- Sheldon H. is a five-year-old boy who has been in custody since August 2008. Sheldon has extreme developmental disabilities, including behavioral problems. County DFS assumed custody of Sheldon after he was injured in a car crash, the culmination of his mother and stepfather fleeing from the police in a high-speed chase. After Sheldon was placed in E.F.’s care, Defendants failed to make any home visits for six weeks, despite calls to the caseworker from E.F. County DFS also failed to respond to repeated requests from Sheldon’s foster mother for training and support to meet Sheldon’s needs and failed to provide a timely needs assessment for Sheldon. Sheldon has thus missed many months of school, special education, and related services during a critical window in his development. DFS has also endangered Sheldon by compelling him to have unsupervised visits with his mother and stepfather, whom Sheldon has alleged sexually abused him. This allegation was reported to Sheldon’s caseworker in March 2009 but was not investigated for nearly a year. In February 2010, Sheldon was placed with his grandmother, out of state.
- Mason I. is a twelve-year-old boy who has been in custody since July 2003. Mason lived with M.J. for nearly 1.5 years, beginning in September of 2008. Deaf since birth, Mason entered foster care at the age of six after enduring sexual, physical, and emotional abuse by his parents and grandparents. He suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and reactive attachment disorder, among other serious mental health diagnoses. During the six years he has been in Defendants’ custody, Mason has been in more than twenty-five placements, including a treatment center in Florida, the National Deaf Academy (NDA), to which Defendants transferred Mason for approximately nineteen months. Mason’s only means of communication with others is via American Sign Language. Despite knowing of his impairments, Defendants have failed to place Mason in homes able to meet his special needs. Defendants have not provided Mason with a qualified American Sign Language Interpreter on a consistent basis, thereby depriving him of the ability to effectively communicate with others and participate in and benefit from evaluations and medical treatment. Defendants have routinely failed to fully disclose Mason’s relevant medical, mental health, family, social or educational backgrounds to Mason’s foster parents, or health and mental health professionals, or to provide him with the medical, mental health, and educational services he needs and to which he is entitled. For example, Defendants failed to provide Mason with proper and medically necessary treatment, including speech therapy, following his receipt of a cochlear implant. Against Mason’s wishes, the NDA staff with whom Defendants placed him rendered Mason’s implant permanently inoperative. Defendants also routinely administered, had administered by caregivers they selected and supervised, or acquiesced in others’ administrating, multiple psychotropic drugs to Mason with little to no information about the individual drugs or their possible interaction. Further, Defendants placed Mason at NDA without ensuring that it was safe and capable of meeting Mason’s needs. Defendants then ignored Mason’s complaints of sexual abuse at NDA, took no steps to investigate or verify his safety or well being, and never once visited the facility or had a face-to-face interview with Mason while he was there.
Source (pdf): National Center for Youth Law complaint
The next expand block is the announcement of the suit from the National Center for Youth Law.
NCYL Seeks Relief for Children in Las Vegas Child Welfare System; Sues for Damages and Reform
April 14, 2010 — The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) filed a lawsuit against state and county child welfare officials yesterday, charging them with violating state and federal law and showing "deliberate indifference to the health and safety of the children [they are] obligated to protect." The suit seeks unspecified damages for 13 children named in the lawsuit, as well as system improvements for several classes of children that comprise more than half of the 3,600 children in foster care.
The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Las Vegas, cites countless instances of blatant disregard of federal and state law, substandard judgment, neglect, and active indifference on the part of child welfare officials and caseworkers. In many cases, as described in the lawsuit, their conduct has served to perpetuate abuse by routinely denying foster children stability, health care, and, in many cases, even the most minimal level of safety. In fact, many children are taken from their homes only to be subjected to further abuse, including physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, while in the county's custody, the suit says.
For example, defendants placed an infant and her older brother in a foster home where the baby was locked in a closet, and her brother was beaten when he tried to help her. Another plaintiff, now 17, has been in foster care for 15 years, since she was just 1½, and has been shuttled through 40 placements.
Since 2003, more than 10 studies and reports have documented the defendants' failure to protect the health, safety, and well being of child abuse victims and children in foster care. Defendants themselves commissioned many of these reports.
Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden, Clark County (Las Vegas) Department of Family Services Director Tom Morton, and several other county and state officials are named in the suit.
NCYL filed suit together with Morrison & Foerster LLP, an international, 1,000-lawyer firm with offices in 16 cities, including San Francisco, and Wolfenzon Schulman & Ryan, with offices in Las Vegas, Reno, and San Diego.
NCYL previously sued to reform the child welfare system in Nevada on behalf of different plaintiffs and a different class. The last suit, filed in 2006, was dismissed last year after the District Court declined to certify the class, and all the plaintiffs had either aged out of the system or been adopted.
The Center is renewing its efforts for current and future foster care children who will continue to suffer until state and county child welfare officials stop resisting reform and instead comply with the law by making essential changes to ensure the safety and well-being of children in their custody.
"Our hope is that going forward, the county and state will commit its time and resources to addressing the needs of children in its care," says NCYL attorney Bryn Martyna.
NCYL said that many of the problems cited in its initial lawsuit persist or have worsened. A 2009 review of Nevada's child welfare system by the US Department of Health and Human Services found the state did not meet federal standards for child safety, staff and caregiver training, and children's physical and mental health, among others.
Even more disturbing is the discovery of other abuses, including the administering of multiple psychotropic drugs to foster children. Among the allegations in the lawsuit, for which NCYL is seeking damages for 13 plaintiff children:
- Many caseworkers lack even the most rudimentary training, have no supervision, and carry exceedingly high caseloads, resulting in serious injury to children
- Children are routinely denied mental health, medical, early intervention, and special education services
- Children as young as 7 are prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs, sometimes in combination, without adequate monitoring. Most of the drugs are not approved for use in children. One child named in the suit was twice hospitalized in the ICU for near organ failure due to an overdose of such drugs
- Caseworkers regularly fail to visit children in their placements
- Supervisors and caseworkers often "turn a deaf ear" to reports of abuse and neglect in foster care, allowing children to endure further abuse
- Children sent to out-of-state placements are essentially written off by defendants, who fail to evaluate or monitor such placements, allowing children to suffer further abuse and neglect.
The lawsuit is also seeking relief on behalf of three classes of children for whom defendants have failed to fulfill their legal obligations to:
- Develop case plans that contain the information foster parents need to properly care for the children in their care
- Provide guardians ad litem (representatives for children in court) as required under both Nevada and federal law
- Provide early intervention services for foster children, denying them that care and support at a crucial point in their development
"If Defendants' unconstitutional and unlawful actions and omissions are not halted, many more children will be harmed," said NCYL Senior Attorney Bill Grimm, lead counsel on the case. "And another generation of children will suffer untold misery in the form of abuse, instability, and absence of a loving family. Some will suffer irreparable injury or even death, and others will leave the foster care system ill-prepared to live healthy, independent, and productive lives."
For more information, contact:
- Tracy Schroth (510) 835-8098, x3013
- Bill Grimm (510) 835-8098, x3016
- Bryn Martyna (510) 835-8098, x3036
Source: National Center for Youth Law
Addendum: Here is a settlement. The state has expended $3.475 million on the case, to be divvied up:
Court approves $2.075 million settlement for ex-foster children
The federal court in Nevada has approved a $2.075 million settlement for seven former foster children who claimed they were injured while in Clark County’s child welfare system, the National Center for Youth Law announced Monday.
The advocacy group’s attention has now shifted to whether recommendations for county child welfare reform and related court systems will be implemented.
“The track record for the county is not good,” said Bill Grimm, a senior attorney at the Oakland, Calif.,-based National Center for Youth Law, which filed the lawsuit and lobbies for the protection and care of foster children.
The settlement was approved by the Clark County Commission in mid-November, but it still needed final approval from the court. About $1.6 million will directly benefit the seven former foster children, while $500,000 will cover attorney fees and costs for plaintiffs’ counsel.
Clark County spent $1.4 million on attorney fees, which covered outside counsel, and other costs in defending the case.
The settlement follows a long legal battle over the county’s foster care system waged by the National Center for Youth Law and Morrison & Foerster LLP on behalf of their clients, the announcement said.
The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed in 2010 and claimed the county’s child welfare agency failed to provide adequate care and safety for foster children.
A federal judge threw out the case, but a federal appeals court reinstated the suit in 2012.
The suit cited concerns with numerous aspects of the county’s child welfare system, including the use of psychotropic medications on children, reported physical and sexual abuse in foster homes, and the adequacy of Child Protective Services investigations.
The settlement was approved on March 21 by federal Judge Robert C. Jones. The money for each plaintiff ranges from $100,000 to $350,000, which has been deposited into annuities and trusts, Grimm said.
Four of the former foster children are still minors and may need to go to court for particular disbursements.
Now that the legal battle is over, the advocacy group’s attention has turned to the recently released report from a Nevada Blue Ribbon committee that recommends reforms to the county’s child welfare and court systems, Grimm said. The committee was appointed last fall by Nevada Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta to examine system shortcomings.
“A report gets issued … and when it comes to implementing the changes, very little ends up being done,” Grimm said.
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal