I-Team: Acting CPS director questioned about child deaths

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Several children in Clark County have died even after Child Protective Services or CPS has had the chance to intervene.  After numerous reports and requests from the I-Team, the acting director agreed to an interview.

“We’re constantly reviewing to improve our practice and really ultimately the outcomes for children and families,” Kevin Schiller said.  

As the assistant county manager for Clark County, Schiller is overseeing several programs. He is the acting director of CPS during the national search for a permanent replacement.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy:  “Do you think children are falling through the cracks?”
Kevin Schiller:  “I think we are always in a state of continuous improvement.”

“Continuous improvement,” is a term Schiller used 17 times during the sit-down interview.

According to a 2017 statewide report, 38 percent of children who CPS has had access to in Clark County are safely maintained in their homes.

Some outcomes are tragic.

Abygaile Bennett was killed in 2016. Her father, Justin Bennett, is accused of beating her to death. The I-Team learned there were numerous warning signs.  CPS was involved with the family before the 3-year-old’s death, but the agency outsourced the case to an agency which handles low-level neglect cases, not abuse. The child’s grandmother, Bernadine Morimoto, is now suing CPS.

“I miss her, terribly,” Morimoto told the I-Team.

Schiller insists he cannot talk about specific cases. “It’s confidentiality under statute,” he said.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy:  “Have you watched any of our stories?”
Kevin Schiller:  “Yes.”
Murphy:  “What would you say about them without commenting on a specific case?”
Schiller:  “I would go back to the fact that number one, any child death in our system is an absolute travesty, and I would also indicate that the department, the county, myself, are very invested in continuous improvement.”

Murphy:  “Since you’ve taken over, have employees been held accountable for mistakes more so?”
Schiller:  “Since in accordance with collective bargaining agreement and statutory requirements for confidentiality, we do manage accountability of staff related to that.”

The trial against Janet Solander revealed a different story. Solander was convicted for torturing three girls she adopted for nearly three years. Prosecutors had a tough time getting a CPS supervisor to testify.

“This is absolutely insane this person is behaving this way,” prosecutor Jacqueline Bluth said in court.

Courtroom testimony revealed there were many warning signs; the girls could have been protected sooner. CPS was involved, but workers admitted they did not review Solander’s history with CPS.

“Has there been any explanation from the higher ups as to why you wouldn’t review notes like that before taking over a case?” Prosecutor Christopher Hamner questioned.

“No explanation or no instruction to do so or not to do so,” said Aya Orenick, Department of Family Services.

The I-Team asked Schiller is workers always have information about case history available.

Schiller:  “The information is in unity and yes, they should be able to access that information through our statewide federal system.”
Murphy:  “So, why are workers saying they didn’t have that information?”
Schiller:  “Again, I don’t have any case examples but I can tell you from a unity system and this is in my experience statewide, that information is available through the statewide child welfare system.”

According to Schiller, CPS needs more funding and he will be requesting it. While Schiller is managing the agency, ultimately, Clark County commissioners oversee the department.  

Schiller also stressed there is a dire need for more foster parents in Clark County. You can find information on becoming a foster parent here.
 

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