County takeover of child welfare system urged

CARSON CITY (AP) - The Clark County Department of Family and Youth Services says the county - Nevada's largest - should take over a new child welfare system, which would include services now handled by the state.

Under the proposal, the state would have oversight authority and would run similar programs in Nevada's rural counties that couldn't support their own systems.

In testimony Thursday before a legislative subcommittee on the integration of state and local child welfare systems, Juvenile Court Judge Bob Gaston of Las Vegas said the state needs to change the system because children aren't being adequately served.

''There is no way we can find permanency (for the child) within 12 months,'' he said, referring to mandates of the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act. Nevada's bifurcated system, in which the state and county handle different components of child welfare programs, causes delays and gaps in services.

A child spends an average 3.2 years in Nevada's foster care system before a permanency plan is put in place. However, there are those who have been in the state's care for more than 10 years. Also, Nevada children are moved from home to home more times than those in any other state, Gaston said.

Under the county's plan for a ''seamless'' system, a child would have one caseworker - not the minimum of five as is the case now, Gaston said. There would be specialists working with the caseworker if needed. The judge also suggested monthly reviews of cases in court. Now, he said, families are seen in court only every six months.

Some state workers have reservations about the county's proposal.

Bob Gagnier of the State of Nevada Employees Association said the county may not understand the complexities of child welfare services. He said county programs are not as family-oriented as the state's; they are more involved in investigating allegations of abuse and neglect and in short-term programs.

There also are significant disparities between state and county workers. County workers are paid more. Many are only investigators, Gagnier said, adding that most of the state workers are licensed social workers.

The county proposal may end bifurcation, but it also would create a dual system, Gagnier added.

He urged the subcommittee to also consider the lateral transfer of state employees to positions with the county; continuation of seniority and tenure; not promoting county employees over state workers who are doing the job; and the opportunity to transfer state workers to other jobs within state government.

Dr. James Rast, a psychologist and consultant to the state Department of Child and Family Services, urged the subcommittee to look beyond the bifurcation issue.

''You can't solve fragmentation by creating more,'' he said. ''Consider developing a planning process with funding attached to it. Involve families, the county, the state, the school system - along with other supports.''

Rast also said there have been significant increases in the number of children with problems, ranging from Attention Deficit Disorder and drug and alcohol abuse, to violent acts and severe emotional disturbances.

Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, subcommittee chairwoman, said there may be a need for more preventive services. She referred to a shift in philosophy to in-home services rather than out-of-home placements for children with these problems.

State Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, a subcommittee member, said universal screening tests for children may identify problems early on.


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