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Nevada’s child deaths to be investigated

Appeal Capitol Bureau

A team of experts should begin reviewing how Nevada investigates and reports on child fatalities before the end of this month, according to Human Services Director Mike Willden in a report Thursday to lawmakers.

He said the department will conduct a thorough examination of 79 cases in Clark County that have been identified as needing further review.

Then, he said, the state will perform a similar review of cases in Washoe County, followed by a review of all child death cases in the rest of the state.

A variety of problems within the system and confusion in the law have led to what Willden said is serious under-reporting of child deaths and inadequate reviews to determine whether abuse or neglect was a factor. He said Nevada law is unclear about how to determine whether a death case should be reported to the state and how to decide if it should be listed as involving neglect or abuse.

“My personal opinion? Everything needs to be investigated. Everything needs to get into a database and, after an appropriate investigation, it needs to be released (to the public),” Willden said.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said it is critical for the state to get a handle on the situation, make sure child fatalities are properly and fully investigated and reported. She and subcommittee Chairwoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, urged Willden to identify legal changes needed to make Nevada’s laws work better for finding, investigating and reporting child deaths in time for the 2007 Legislature.

The issue surfaced after a Dec. 1 report by the state showed 114 fatalities in Clark County between 2001 and 2004 among those under age 18 could be due to abuse or neglect. That is 10 percent of the 1,041 child deaths in Southern Nevada during that period.

The majority, 661, were listed as “natural causes.” A total of 231 cases involved children “known to the system” – meaning they had had some prior contact with Child and Family Services, the juvenile justice system or another official agency – and at least 55 have been confirmed to involve some maternal drug use.

Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, and Leslie said the review should try to determine how many more of those deaths involved drug use – particularly methamphetamine – by those responsible for the children. Carpenter said the meth problem even in rural areas like Elko is epidemic.