Clark County has set a goal to add 40 new foster homes in 2023. (Getty Images)
Clark County is attempting to boost its recruitment efforts to find homes for roughly 3,000 children in foster care, but still faces obstacles finding enough people to participate.
Jill Marano, the director of family services at Clark County, updated Clark County commissioners on Tuesday on efforts to attract more foster homes and restructure how the department addresses those staying at Child Haven, the county-run shelter for children, for extended periods of time.
While the average stay at the shelter is about nine days, Marano said there is at least one child who has been there a year, with multiple children staying there months at a time.
“A lot of the kids who are on campus for a long time are the kids with significant behavioral or health needs or developmental delays,” she said.
Nevada’s treatment of children, along with its lack of services and resources for children with behavioral needs, drew federal attention in late 2022.
The U.S. Department of Justice found that Nevada violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily institutionalizing children with behavioral health disabilities.
The report found more than 1,700 children were admitted to a hospital for psychiatric care in 2020 and children remained in residential treatment facilities on average for nine months to a year.
“(The DOJ) found children inappropriately sitting longer in county level facilities like Child Haven and detention because of the lack of state level resources,” Marano said. “The state is still working on their response to this report.”
Commissioner Justin Jones said it was an “obviously a very damning report.”
“Can you speak to what the state has and hasn’t done since the DOJ report came out in terms of committing what they are supposed to do?” he asked Marano on Tuesday.
Marano said the department recently reached out to the state and it “advised us that because of pending litigation they aren’t able to talk about it.”
During the recent legislative session, Marano said lawmakers did fund therapeutic foster care “at an appropriate level” after the DOJ report noted it was one area the state was deficient.
Research shows that when states don’t spend enough on public benefits such as housing infrastructure, child care assistance, and Medicaid assistance, “you see higher instances of child maltreatment,” Marano said.
A 2020 report from the National Conference of State Legislature showed Nevada ranked near the bottom of investment in these public benefits.
“When there are higher instances of maltreatment,” she said it results in more kids entering into foster care.
Marano said neglect is the number one reason children enter the foster system.
“While neglect has gone down a little bit, we have also seen an increase in homelessness and inadequate housing and parental alcohol and drug abuse,” she said. “Those still fit in that neglect category where there is some sort of condition going on with the parent and they are unable to meet the needs of the children.”
She said if they focused on addressing the reasons behind neglect, they could see a drop in children entering the system.
As far as recruitment, the county has had better success with kinship fostership, when a child goes with someone related to the family.
“We have had a bit of an increase in the number of relatives who are licensed and a slight increase in specialized foster homes,” Marano said. “Unfortunately the number of regular foster homes is still going down.”
Another barrier for families considering fostering is the lack of child care. Marano said the County is working with the organization Las Vegas Urban League “during our foster parent training to explain the process for getting subsidized child care to foster parents.”
The department has also made changes to the recruitment process, including offering fingerprinting for free during the initial informational sessions and engaging in more targeted outreach in communities where foster homes are needed.
The county revised its nine-week training course for prospective parents, which didn’t initially include CPR and carseat training. It is now seven weeks and includes both trainings.
In January, she said, the county also offered an expedited foster parent class where applicants could get their training completed in two weekends. A second expedited class started in July.
Of the eight families that went through the course, seven received foster placements. The last family, Marano said, had “a change in life circumstances and ended up moving out of state.”
Marano said the goal was to add 40 new foster homes this year.
“While that may not seem like a lot because we estimate we need about 300 more homes, we have not had a net gain in foster homes in at least the last five years,” she said. “If we were able to get 40 homes we would really be able to do something quite remarkable this year.”
This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Jill Marano.
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