State to study reporting of child fatalities

The state Department of Health and Human Services is looking for experts to review child fatalities following criticism from lawmakers and advocates that Nevada's system is underreporting child-abuse deaths.

"It's clear that there are systemic gaps in Nevada's child protective services," said Director Mike Willden. "Before we can take steps to change the system, we need to determine where the gaps are in documenting the deaths of children 'known to the system.'"

The phrase "known to the system" refers to children who have, for one reason or another, had official contact with state services, particularly through the Division of Child and Family Services.

A report released Dec. 1 by the state showed that 114 fatalities between 2001 and 2004 - 10 percent of all child deaths in the state - could be due to abuse or neglect. Of that total, 79 have since been identified for further review.

Willden said he was setting up a blue ribbon panel to begin fixing the system with an in-depth review of those 79 child fatalities in Clark County. He said that will begin a comprehensive statewide process to address the issue.

Willden said he is looking for qualified people interested in joining that panel from fields ranging from law enforcement and medical to legal, education and child welfare disciplines.

The review will be supervised by the National Maternal and Child Death Review Center. He said it will complete the review by March 31.

The move follows criticism of the report by a number of advocacy groups, including William Grimm, senior attorney with the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law. He said the state didn't include any detailed information about child-abuse and neglect cases in its annual reports even though those details are required by law.

He said federal law requires the public be informed about cases involving deaths of children from abuse or neglect.

The Nevada report included no information other than the age, gender and cause of death of the child involved.

-- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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