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Child's death prompts changes in welfare system

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Updated: 5/23/2013 10:39 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- Millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent to help improve the county's family services.

A child welfare system overhaul is currently underway following the beating death of 7-year-old RJ Arrington.

Family services say changes had been in the works for months prior to the tragedy. News 3's Marissa Mike went to family services to find out how your money is being spent.

“What you saw and see, is a disconnect between in the universal Child Protective Services and ongoing case management,” said Lisa Ruiz-Lee with the County Family Services Department.

Ruiz-Lee with the county's family services department says, there are major communication issues within the child welfare system and they need to be fixed.

With the backing of the Clark County Commission, a three-year $3 million contract was signed with a national organization, that specializes in improving child welfare systems.

Matthew Gebhardt is a consultant with the group, action for child protection.

“There's plenty of challenges,” Gebhardt said. “What we're trying to work on is better information collection and criteria based decision making in all parts of the cps system.”

From the initial hotline call to the moment a case is closed, experts are working to overhaul the system, clarify job descriptions and change mindsets.

Gebhardt says they're crucial changes, but not easy ones to make...

“It's going to take time and good supervision around being confident in decision making.”

Adding to fears is the recent death of 7-year-old RJ Arrington. A Roundy Elementary School official reported suspected abuse to the county hotline but officials didn't respond in time.

The department of family services says a hotline operator was fired for failing to properly flag the call's urgency.

Police sayRJ was beaten to death by his mom and step dad who are now awaiting trial behind bars.

“We are never going to be a tragedy free system,” Ruiz-Lee said. “We deal in the lives of too many people all of whom have the ability to make decisions and to take action we can't control all the time.”

But Ruiz-Lee says, they can work to improve their system so mistakes like ones made in RJ's case don't happen again.

“We evaluate what we can do better. we do it because we want never to experience a case like RJ Arrington,” Ruiz-Lee said.

Family service officials say change won't come overnight; they're transitioning county child welfare workers into the new safety model in phases.

In the short time since the overhaul started, they say they've already seen improvements in how hotline operators gather information and pass that key information to the necessary officials.




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