Nevada Assembly OK’s opening child abuse hearings to public |

Nevada Assembly OK’s opening child abuse hearings to public

BEN KIECKHEFER, Associated Press

Media and the public would be welcomed into courtrooms handling child abuse and neglect cases, under a bill approved unanimously Tuesday by the Nevada Assembly.

AB132 makes child abuse cases presumptively open to the public after prosecutors prove there’s probable cause for the charges. Proponents say public scrutiny of the process ultimately helps children.

Judges could close hearings if they find it in the best interest of the child to do so.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the move would be a major step forward for Nevada. She told the Assembly that 17 other states have opened their child abuse and neglect hearings, so Nevada is following a national trend.

Clark County Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle supported the measure during committee hearings on the bill. He said instances of mismanagement by child welfare agencies have gone unnoticed by the public because of closed hearings.

State Division of Child and Family Services chief Edward Cotton testified against the bill. He said exposing abused children to public scrutiny isn’t proper.

The Assembly also unanimously approved a bill easing the methods for establishing permanent guardians for children who can’t be reunited with their natural parents and aren’t likely candidates for adoption.

AB273 allows child welfare agencies, not-for-profit groups and interested individuals to petition juvenile courts directly to establish guardianship for a child. Currently, all guardianship hearings are held in separate courts.

Petitions for guardianships could only be filed after the court has ruled out adoption and decided there is no opportunity to reunite the children with their natural parents.

Buckley said making children change courts wastes time and money and is disruptive for the youth.

Nevada uses guardianships to comply with permanency requirements for abused and neglected children. The federal government has mandated that states cannot let children languish in foster care and must establish permanency plans for them.

Both AB132 and AB273 now move to the Senate for its consideration.