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CONTACT 13: Child welfare system breakdown

Posted at 11:00 PM, May 16, 2017

Many say our child welfare system failed Aaron Jones--the 13-year-old boy taken from his parents over allegations of neglect and abuse but returned to his father. Aaron is dead now and his father is charged with the boy's murder. On May 12, a 3-year-old boy died and his father is also charged with murder. This boy also had a history with CPS investigating allegations of neglect. 

Contact 13 talks to a Las Vegas man who grew up in the system. He says it's been broken for years and tells us his family may become the next tragedy.

When the child welfare system fails, it's truly tragic.  Neglect, abuse, even death.  That thought haunts Antonio Nieves, who says he's fighting to save his youngest siblings from what he worries will be an inevitable fate.

"The last time I was there, there was a huge bed bug infestation," says Antonio Nieves. "I can see bite marks all over my brother and sister."

 His brother and sister are just three and six years old.  Antonio says since the court returned them to their biological mother, they've been neglected. 

And it's all he can do to answer their cries for help. 

"'Brother, I'm hungry. Brother, I'm thirsty. Brother, I just want to feel warm water on my skin. Can you give me a bath? Can we go get some food? Brother, he spanks me too hard.'"

That was in March, just a few months after the two were given back to the mother they barely knew. The boy went into foster care at birth.  The girl at age two.  

But Antonio says problems started when he was a toddler. 

"My mother has lost permanent rights to me plus five of my siblings. So this is a recurring theme in my mother's life," he explains. 

Darcy: "But let's give her a chance with these two young children?"

Antonio: "With these two young children. Yes. That's what they decided was best for the kids."

Despite the fact that they were on the verge of being adopted by another family.

"They had very, very, very, very great hearts," says Antonio.

 Contact 13 sat down with Ed Cotton, former Director of Nevada Child and Family Services, who we asked to review some of the court records in this case.

"The judge was really pushing on that word 'concerns'. The department, he said, kept saying all the time they had 'concerns' about the mother."

But Cotton says judges need more than concerns to terminate parental rights.  They need evidence of specific problems. 

And that, he says, may be where case workers didn't do enough.

"Unfortunately it's at the expense of--possibly the expense of--two children," says Cotton. "Which is too high a price."

Antonio says there's another major concern.  The kids' father, Joseph Ultimo, was convicted of child neglect of another family member. 

And Contact 13 uncovered a long criminal history including charges of battery domestic violence, drug possession, resisting arrest, burglary and more. 

Neither Ultimo nor his attorney returned our calls for comment. We spoke to the mother at her home and she agreed to an interview, but her attorney later called and canceled.

"I'm just afraid something really drastic, really painful, is going to happen one of my siblings," says Antonio. "I don't believe they're in a safe environment. And I think it's just a matter of time before something like the unthinkable happens to one of them."  

Clark County Department of Child and Family Services declined to talk with us on camera, citing privacy laws.  

The mother's lawyer sent the following 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.  

At visitations between the children and my client, she was stalked and watched even after the Department of Family Services AND the District Court allowed her unsupervised short duration visits.  The Department of Family services workers were even changed after complaints regarding reunification.  As such, we now have a yet another set of Department workers who agree with reunification.

There have been NUMEROUS prior Department workers in this matter. Reunification has also been sanctioned by the District Court.  

Now, it seems, one of my client's adult children has made NUMEROUS unsubstantiated and blatantly false allegations about her.  These wrongful accusations have been fully investigated by the Department and found to be false.  This story appears to be merely another attempt to derail a successful reunification. This adult child is clearly aligned with the same people that wanted to keep the children from my client in the first place.

Contact 13 could not confirm if any specific allegations were determined to be false by DFS.