Federal class action suit filed against county child welfare system

By Steve Kanigher (contact)

Download the complaint (.pdf)

A federal class action lawsuit filed Tuesday night in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas accuses state and Clark County officials of overseeing a child welfare system that violates state and federal law.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 13 children by the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, Calif., named as defendants Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden, Nevada Division of Child and Family Services Administrator Diane Comeaux, Clark County Manager Virginia Valentine and Clark County Department of Family Services Director Tom Morton.

Those officials are accused of showing “deliberate indifference to the health and safety of the children [they are] obligated to protect.” In addition to seeking unspecified damages for the child plaintiffs, the lawsuit demands system improvements for several classes of children in foster care.

Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said today: “We’re not commenting because we haven’t had a chance to review it.”

Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Ben Kieckhefer likewise said: “We haven’t been served yet and we can’t comment until we’ve had a chance to review it with our attorneys.”

The lawsuit alleges countless instances of blatant disregard of federal and state law, substandard judgment, neglect and active indifference on the part of child welfare officials and caseworkers. Those individuals were accused of perpetuating abuse by routinely denying foster children stability, health care, and, in many cases, even the most minimal level of safety. In fact, many children are taken from their homes only to be subjected to further abuse, including physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, while in the county’s custody, the lawsuit says.

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