Advocate calls for new leadership for child welfare system

A longtime child advocate is calling for new leadership over Clark County’s child welfare system in wake of the recent death of a 16-month-old girl while in foster care.

The system is failing the children it is supposed to protect, Donna Coleman said.

She said the two previous Clark County Department of Family Services directors didn’t work out and while the current director, Lisa Ruiz-Lee, is trying, she lacks a child welfare background.

“It’s time to stick a fork in it and say we need to do something else,” Coleman said.

County Manager Don Burnette was not available for comment late Tuesday.

“In light of the fact that their leadership picks don’t seem to be working,” Coleman said, “I would like to see an independent child welfare czar.” Similar to a model being implemented in Los Angeles, she said, the czar would have oversight of the entire Clark County child welfare system but would not be a county or state employee. It would be an independent position, and it would be above the director’s position, she said.

Coleman said that child welfare officials are not intervening in cases where it should to help prevent deaths.

Records show 11 out of 27 child fatality or near fatality disclosures this year indicate that the child died or nearly died while Child Protective Services either had an open investigation or had closed an investigation with unsubstantiated allegations for abuse or neglect months before the child’s death or after the child was removed from a home. The disclosures do not indicate the cause of death.

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