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In Nevada, child custody lawyers know it’s an exception to the rule, but the $2.075 million settlement for ex-foster children speaks volumes

May 1, 2015

It doesn’t look so good for Las Vegas when Clark County is ordered to pay up more than $2 million for what comes off as a defunct child welfare system. Sin City’s reputation as little more than a berth for drunken cavorting, reckless spending, and legal sex gets reinforced when headlines like these end up on the national scene. And even though Nevada child custody lawyers know that injuries and abuse within the foster care system are relatively rare, high profile news like this story highlights a bungling government program unable to even care for its own.

There’s a certain sense of outrage among the public when these cases do occur—what wild injustice is it that children removed from their homes by “protective interventions” despite their parents’ battles armed with their own child custody lawyers, end up more in harm’s way than they were in their original situation, deemed by the state to be “unsafe” or “unfit.” But when it does happen, like in this story, outrage is almost the only emotion the public can appropriately muster.

One mother sued the state when her 2 year old boy in foster care placement “was shaken so severely that his brain swelled” and “the toddler had to have emergency surgery to remove a portion of his skull to allow his brain to expand,” with an unclear long-term prognosis. Although it’s arguably difficult to untangle the threads of blame in some of these cases: this boy’s mother was represented by not only the specific civil suit attorney, but child custody lawyers and criminal defense attorneys her own felony case of being accused of  child neglect or endangerment with substantial bodily harm.

These are realities that child custody lawyers must face on a daily basis. Representing the best interests of essentially powerless children who are caught on cogs in the big wheels of “the system” is never easy. And sometimes these cases don’t have happy endings. As for the $2.075 million—how “happy” is it?

Only about $1.6 million will “directly benefit the seven former foster children” who were plaintiffs to the lawsuit, but “the money for each plaintiff ranges from $100,000 to $350,000, which has been deposited into annuities and trusts,” according to the National Center for Youth Law who prosecuted the state on their behalf. That amount seems duly compensatory for the injured parties, at least on the surface, but what about the ones not party to the lawsuit?

Clark County’s Family Services programs don’t get off scot-free after this. The lawsuit made clear in court that there are ongoing problems in the child welfare services in Las Vegas, “including the use of psychotropic medications on children, reported physical and sexual abuse in foster homes, and the adequacy of investigations.” All adding up to a very poorly served population in a city that already has a reputation for ignoring its residents and catering to loose tourists. What will the nation think?

 

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