Family Court Chronicles

DFS Director Responds to Report

On June 9, 2005, I met with Susan Klein-Rothchild, Director of the Clark County Department of Family Services, at her office at Child Haven. She had received my report, Clark County Foster Care: Crisis and Solutions, and wanted to respond to it.

I was impressed with how quickly the Director had responded. She received my report on Monday, called me on Tuesday and we met on Thursday. This is not what I would have expected from the old DCFS!

This was our first meeting. I found Ms. Klein-Rothschild to be pleasant, earnest and well-informed. We sat at a table in her office. She had my report in front of her as well as a couple of pages of handwritten notes concerning it. We spoke for about 45 minutes, which was enough time for each of us to give a general overview of our concerns, but not time to go into much detail. Below are my minutes of the meeting. My later comments are in italics.

The Director said that my report made some good points and that it may be an accurate "historical" report on the situation a year or two ago (when the state was in charge of foster care). She said, however, that many of the issues I raised were being addressed by recent changes.

My report said that there was no meaningful assessment of foster parents during the application process. She replied that the application process had been recently revamped. One new component was an assessment called "SAFE," which she said was a "psychosocial evaluation" of the prospective foster family. SAFE is a standardized protocol developed in California by the Consortium for Children. This is partly a written evaluation and partly an assessment by an interviewer. Prospective foster parents are interviewed twice: In one meeting, the couple is interviewed together (if it is a couple), and in the other, they are interviewed separately. SAFE has been in use in Clark County for about a year.

I asked the Director if she knew the percentage of potential foster parents who were rejected based on the results of SAFE. She said she didn't have this information.

The Director said that training had also been standardized. The new curriculum is called PRIDE, and it had been developed by the Child Welfare League of America, based in California. Although the trainers are employed by the county, they were all trained in the PRIDE system by the California group.

The Director acknowledged that there is always room for improvement in the areas of (1) moving cases more quickly through the system, (2) caseworker supervision of foster families, (3) quality and supervision of staff, and (4) the Department's "culture of secrecy." (To be fair, my criticisms in these areas were qualitative, and it would be impossible for her to say that all of these problems had been solved.) She had more to say about each of these concerns.

(1) I asked her why a state like Vermont can move an average case to termination in 7-8 months while Nevada takes 24 months. She said that this is a valid issue that she is concerned about. However, she said that some of the delay is due to the backlog in the court system. As an example, she cited a recent high-profile termination case (presumably the Mesquite case): The case was ready to go to trial in August but could not be scheduled until May.

(2) She said that supervision of foster homes can always be improved. She mentioned various staffing changes she was making to address this (the details of which I do not recall). She said that regular foster homes should be visited on a monthly basis, while shelter homes (specialized short-term foster homes) would soon be visited on a weekly basis.

(3) In my report, I had said that government workers could not be fired. The Director replied that this was simply not true for her department. Recently, she had released some employees. (I did not ask for the circumstances or the timeframe.) The Director made it clear that she would get rid of problem workers. I asked her how many employees the Department had in total, and she said that it was now about 400.

(4) The "culture of secrecy" is also something that the Director said needed improvement. She had no explanation for why I wasn't given the name of the infant cottage when I asked for it on the phone. She said that she herself was freely available to the press and that she was willing to talk about anything except where barred by law.

Other tidbits gleaned from this meeting....

We briefly discussed the institutional option for housing older children (My report wanted to expand Child Haven.), but there wasn't much for either of us to say. The Director said she was pursuing all options to address the current foster crisis, and the solution would be a spectrum of responses.

The Director was concerned with statistics (as she should be in her position). She said that when she took over duties from the state, she did not even know how many children there were in foster care. Now, after an audit, she has a better picture of what she is managing. She showed me a printout of the PowerPoint presentation she had recently given for the County Commissioners, giving a statistical snapshot of the children in her system. (I didn't have time to look at this for as long as I wanted.) She also showed me statistics indicating the explosion of cases entering the child protective system, which has outpaced the growth of the local population. I asked her if this was a result of the meth epidemic, and she thought that it was.

Here is a document that the Director gave me listing the 2004 Accomplishments of her department, which addresses some of the concerns in my report.

I described very briefly what my own goals were. I said that my first goal was to collect information on the child welfare system and put it on my website, I said that as I collected data, the direction of my own efforts would become more clear. I said that my primary interest was philosophical. I said that we are surrounded by a world of tragedy, largely hidden from us, and DFS was a small window into that world. I said that I was trying to figure out, morally and ethically, how to deal with infinite tragedy.

I pointed out what I thought was the central fear of prospective foster parents, which I hoped to deal with on my website: Foster parents are afraid that they will bond with a child and the child will be doing well, and then the system pulls the child away and puts him back into the original destructive household. The Director seemed to appreciate this dilemma.

Glenn Campbell
6/10/05, 6/13/05


Las Vegas, Nevada foster care