I-Team: Family Services Head Acknowledges Need for Change - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty and Photojournalist Kyle Zuelke

I-Team: Family Services Head Acknowledges Need for Change

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LAS VEGAS -- Nearly seven months ago, Las Vegas area police and prosecutors who work with abused children accused county officials of not doing enough to protect the kids in their care.

After an exhaustive review of more than 80 examples, the county's family services chief acknowledges the need for some improvements. But in the same breath, he says he believes the review underscores that the agency is now on the right track.

In June of this year, before a panel of lawmakers Assistant District Attorney Teresa Lowry made her private concerns public.

"I've been asked previously by members of the subcommittee, 'How often do you disagree with the Department of Family Services?' I would submit to you that the question is, why do we disagree," she said.

The why, explained Lowry, exists in the histories of 82 actual cases -- children who were physically, sexually abused, even murdered despite the involvement of Child Protective Services.

At Lowry's urging, Clark County agreed to conduct a thorough case review. Six months later, DFS Director Tom Morton says he is encouraged by the results.

"The agency has made improvements. It's not as bad as it was, but on the other hand, we have a lot of work ahead of us," he said.

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Among Morton's findings are incomplete case files, an on-going problem for the agency due in part to an out-dated computer system. Also a lack of communication between DFS and the DA's office and insufficient training of caseworkers charged with making life and death decisions.

"I think if you look at the fire department or the police department, the amount of training you get before you ever step out onto the street is far more than the we provide and the amount of on-going training that they get is far more than we provide. So in that regard, I think training remains an issue," he said.

Morton plans improvements to address the key issues, including small-scale case reviews involving the DA's office.

Child advocate Donna Coleman, a frequent critic of the department, has little faith in what she calls the agency's self-assessment.

"We've seen a lot of reports over the years," she said. "We have the policies. We know what to do. We've had the consultants in. To put policy into action is another situation and they haven't been able to do that."

Morton,  surprisingly, doesn't disagree to a point. While he insists agency improvements during his tenure have translated to better outcomes for kids, he acknowledges there is more to be done.

"I think the work of a child welfare agency in self-improvement is never done," he said.

District Attorney David Roger says he is please that the county has taken a more hands-on approach to the supervision of its child welfare agency.

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