LAS VEGAS (KTNV) - Nearly 3,000 kids in Clark County are in the child welfare system, children taken from their homes due to neglect or abuse.
Clark County's Department of Family Services is responsible for protecting them.
But, as Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears reports, many say the county is not always acting in the best interests of these vulnerable children.
"It's a pain I still have today."
Antonio Nieves and his siblings grew up bouncing from home to home. His mother gave him up when he was 3 years old.
"She didn't reach out to us and she was always less than eight miles away from us," says Antonio. "No phone calls. No letters."
Now he worries about his youngest brother and sister, ages 3 and 6. The children were recently taken away from the home they'd lived in most of their lives -- away from parents intent on adopting them and returned to the birth mother they barely knew, despite her struggles with mental illness.
"I don't believe my mom is able to take care of my two siblings just like she hasn't been able to take care of the rest of us," Antonio explains.
Eight children in all. For a few months, Cassie fostered the little sister we're talking about in this story. She formally adopted Matthew, one of Antonio's younger brothers.
"We stayed under the D Street Bridge," says Matthew. "Somebody called CPS. Reported. And we were taken."
Darcy: "What do you see with the system in terms of how it's functioned with this family?"
Cassie: "I see it's very twisted. It's very broken."
A social worker involved with the kids' case also thinks CCDFS and the court failed the children when they were abruptly given to their biological mother with no transition plan. In a statement to Contact 13, she wrote: "The kids both have attachment issues and had very little idea of who their birth parents were. ... All of the work we had done over the preceding months was erased."
Darcy: "What sense can you make of what's happened here?"
Cassie: "I can't make sense of it. It boggles my mind how the system can do this. And justify it?"
Ed Cotton is a former director of the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services. He says this case raises red flags.
And the DFS director could re-open it and possibly prevent a tragedy. But he emphasizes the entire system needs an overhaul.
"And they need transparency," says Cotton.
The county refused our request for an interview and would not provide any information on their role in this case.
"Defensiveness," says Cotton. "Putting up the blockades around rather than saying, 'I want to find out what the heck happened here!'"
Cassie and her husband are left picking up the pieces with their adopted son.
"He never had a father that would take him out and play ball with him," says Cassie. "He didn't know when his next meal was going to be given to him. Or if he was going to have a next meal."
And they all worry about the youngest and what may come.
Darcy; "Do you believe that the courts and the Department of Family Services has put them into danger?"
Cassie: "Yes, I believe that the system failed these children. And that they have very much put them into danger."
The children's father is a convicted felon. Neither he nor his attorney returned our calls for comment.
The mother, who they're living with now, agreed to an interview but then her attorney called it off, providing this statement:
I represent [CLIENT NAME] in the dependency matter and have done so for many years. Rather than the story being a positive one about reunification of two children with their mother it seems that this is couched as a story of the evils of the "system" and the parents. To be candid, the Department of Family Services workers have long been my adversaries and I rarely, if ever praise them. However, in this case they have done incredible work to reunify the children with my client.
My client fully completed the case plan and is doing fantastically well. Keep in mind these children were actively alienated from my client, making reunification even more difficult. The children were told to call her [FIRST NAME] rather than "Mom." The children's names were even changed by the foster parents.
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