I-Team: Child Welfare Services Promised Overhaul - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Child Welfare Services Promised Overhaul

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Roderick "R.J." Arrington died last year after, police said, the 7-year-old was beaten to death. Roderick "R.J." Arrington died last year after, police said, the 7-year-old was beaten to death.
Inside Family Court Inside Family Court

LAS VEGAS -- A $3 million overhaul of Clark County's Department of Family Services is being pushed forward following several recent tragedies involving children in the system.

This is not the first time the child welfare system has been promised an overhaul. Clark County used those words about six years ago after a string of failures that cost children their lives. But while critics and supporters agree, there is no easy fix and inaction is not an option.

"I did ask that this (agenda item) be taken separately," Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said. "It is obviously very important to all of us up here and to our entire community."

Like her predecessor before her, Department of Family Services Director Lisa Ruiz-Lee stands before the commissioners, asking to make a change.

A three year, $3 million overhaul of the child welfare system.

"We've tried to do it this time in a way where we are not piece-mealing things together," Ruiz-Lee said. "We've tried to cover our bases from start to finish."

I-Team: Clark County Underreporting Child Deaths

The contract with Action for Child Protection, a North Carolina-based non-profit organization, will provide for a new safety model designed to improve the system at every stage.

From the first contact with the child abuse hotline to the final decision about where a child will live, employees will apply the same criteria to determine a child's safety.

Similar work with Washoe County has produced results, such as a 40 percent reduction in the number of children in foster care.

"The focus on child safety, the focus on case management, on a system that's worked elsewhere, seems to make sense," said Thom Reilly of the Children's Advocacy Alliance of Nevada.

Reilly, formerly the manager of Clark County, is now an advocate with the alliance.

In his 30 years of work with child welfare systems, he's seen best practices both succeed and fail.

"When you look at the total number of kids coming into any system, I think it would be a disservice to suggest that they aren't making good decisions and doing some very good work for the vast overwhelming majority of kids and families that come into it," Reilly said. "But when you're talking about kid's lives, is one (child's death) ever acceptable?"

The one -- this time -- is R.J. Arrington, a 7-year-old allegedly beaten to death by his mother and stepfather.

Child Protective Services workers were notified of R.J.'s abuse, but didn't respond in time.

CPS Notified Before Boy's Beating Death

Though the second grader's death didn't prompt the overhaul, because it was already in the works, it did help to galvanize support for it.

"Whether this is the end-all -- I never look at any type of change like this as the end-all -- but is it moving in the right direction?" Reilly said.

From her podium before the commissioners, Ruiz-Lee works to make her case and to answer her critics.

"You mention the hotline," Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said to Ruiz-Lee. "They're overwhelmed."

Perhaps more than anyone at the commission meeting, Ruiz-Lee understands what's at stake, and how this change may impact children.

"I think it's about safety," Ruiz-Lee said. "I think it's about reunification. I think it's about permanency for kids and I think in the end it's going to be a benefit for the community as a whole."

The early stages of the contract are already in motion. The first priority was the hotline. Training will begin at the end of June.

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