On June 9, 2005, I met with Susan Klein-Rothchild, Director
of the Clark County Department of Family Services, at her
office at Child Haven. She had received my report, Clark County Foster Care: Crisis and
Solutions, and wanted to respond to it.
I was impressed with how quickly the Director had responded.
She received my report on Monday, called me on Tuesday and
we met on Thursday. This is not what I would have expected
from the old DCFS!
This was our first meeting. I found Ms. Klein-Rothschild to
be pleasant, earnest and well-informed. We sat at a table
in her office. She had my report in front of her as well as
a couple of pages of handwritten notes concerning it. We
spoke for about 45 minutes, which was enough time for each
of us to give a general overview of our concerns, but not
time to go into much detail. Below are my minutes of the
meeting. My later comments are in italics.
The Director said that my report made some good points and
that it may be an accurate "historical" report on the
situation a year or two ago (when the state was in charge of
foster care). She said, however, that many of the issues I
raised were being addressed by recent changes.
My report said that there was no meaningful assessment of
foster parents during the application process. She replied
that the application process had been recently revamped. One
new component was an assessment called
"SAFE," which she
said was a "psychosocial evaluation" of the prospective
foster family. SAFE is a standardized protocol
developed in California by the
Children. This is partly a written
evaluation and partly an assessment by an interviewer.
Prospective foster parents are interviewed twice: In one
meeting, the couple is interviewed together (if it is a
couple), and in the other, they are interviewed separately.
SAFE has been in use in Clark County for about a year.
I would like to know more about the SAFE evaluation
and how it works. Could this be considered a personality assessment? Can
it detect mental illness, latent pedophilia, marriage
problems or other factors that might interfere with
Website: "A major factor that sets (SAFE) apart from a traditional home study is that it not only provides factual and descriptive family information, but also contains a multifactor psychosocial evaluation that considers relevant clinical issues, systematically rules out factors that would render a family unsuitable, identifies and addresses issues of concern and illuminates family strengths and resources."
I asked the Director if she knew the percentage of potential
foster parents who were rejected based on the results of
SAFE. She said she didn't have this information.
This would be an interesting statistic. If nearly
everyone who took the SAFE evaluation passed it, then it
might not be meaningful. How are the results from SAFE
expressed? (A set of numerical scores?) Are there national
standards for what constitutes an "acceptable" foster parent
under SAFE? If there is foster parent shortage, are the
standards lowered to bring in more of them?
The Director said that training had also been standardized.
The new curriculum is called PRIDE,
and it had been developed by the Child Welfare League of
America, based in California. Although the trainers are
employed by the county, they were all trained in the PRIDE
system by the California group.
Any improvement in training is certainly desirable,
but I am less concerned about it than I am about the
evaluation and active selection of candidates. A few hours
of training may improve good parents, but it is not going to
help deficient ones, who will probably go back to their
previous patterns of behavior when the training
The Director acknowledged that there is always room for
improvement in the areas of (1) moving cases more quickly
through the system, (2) caseworker supervision of foster
families, (3) quality and supervision of staff, and (4) the
Department's "culture of secrecy." (To be fair, my
criticisms in these areas were qualitative, and it would be
impossible for her to say that all of these problems had
been solved.) She had more to say about each of these
(1) I asked her why a state like Vermont can move an average
case to termination in 7-8 months while Nevada takes 24
months. She said that this is a valid issue that she is
concerned about. However, she said that some of the delay is
due to the backlog in the court system. As an example, she
cited a recent high-profile termination case (presumably the
Mesquite case): The case was ready to go to trial in August
but could not be scheduled until May.
(2) She said that supervision of foster homes can always be
improved. She mentioned various staffing changes she was
making to address this (the details of which I do not
recall). She said that regular foster homes should be
visited on a monthly basis, while shelter homes (specialized
short-term foster homes) would soon be visited on a weekly
(3) In my report, I had said that government workers could
not be fired. The Director replied that this was simply not
true for her department. Recently, she had released some
employees. (I did not ask for the circumstances or the
timeframe.) The Director made it clear that she would get
rid of problem workers. I asked her how many employees the
Department had in total, and she said that it was now about
The fact that some workers are being fired may not
mean much. The more important question is what they are
being fired for. It is easy to fire a worker for "cause"
but not for underperformance, "not caring," or a simple lack
of synergy with the rest of the organization. (The standards for caseworkers, I
believe, should be very high, like those of air traffic
(4) The "culture of secrecy" is also something that the
Director said needed improvement. She had no explanation
for why I wasn't given the name of the infant cottage when I
asked for it on the phone. She said that she herself was
freely available to the press and that she was willing to
talk about anything except where barred by law.
A reading of recent newspaper articles suggests that
she is correct: She has been very open to the press. She
does not have a public relations officer, as many other
public agencies do, but answers all media inquiries
Other tidbits gleaned from this meeting....
The Family Court will soon be adding a new Hearing
Master. This should improve the backlog in the court
The Director herself joined the county in Jan. 2002,
which was 6 months before the Department actually came into
existence. She is a career social worker and administrator
whose previous experience was in various positions in
There are 7 cottages at Child Haven, plus an additional
building used for overflow due to the current
The infant cottage that I had visited, Howard, was now
closed. The Director said that their intention was to move
infants quickly into foster homes. Any overflow of infants
was going into Agassi, the cottage for medically sensitive
children (donated by the tennis star). We both agreed that
infants did not belong in an institutional setting.
It is hard to say whether the closing of Howard is an
improvement or just a rearrangement of the status quo. On
the whole, are more infants being quickly placed in foster
homes than were in the past? I know that having too many
infants at Child Haven was a major concern of the National
Center for Youth Law, which had threatened a lawsuit. Some
sort of accommodation must have been worked out to prevent a
lawsuit, and I wonder what it was.
I asked her the purpose of the St. Jude's children's
home in Boulder City (a private organization). She said that
it was chiefly for children with developmental difficulties,
and she confirmed that DFS did place children there.
A new electronic system has been implemented for
handling fingerprints. Fingerprints are now taken by a
machine in the DFS office and are conveyed directly to the
FBI. (Processing still takes a couple of months, but that is
the FBI's problem, not DFS's.) This effectively
addresses my criticism of the earlier system.
To address the support needs of foster parents, the
Director said that she is establishing support groups at
each of the four neighborhood centers. (I don't recall the
While support groups may be useful to some foster
parents, I don't think that most would participate in
regular meetings. The most important kind of support is
regular contact with the caseworker. Apart from this, I
think that a simple peer system would be more helpful. It
might work like this: As soon as someone becomes a foster
parent, they receive the names and phone numbers of two or
three present or former foster parents (or "mentors") who
have agreed to answer questions.
We briefly discussed the institutional option for housing
older children (My report wanted to expand Child Haven.),
but there wasn't much for either of us to say. The Director
said she was pursuing all options to address the current
foster crisis, and the solution would be a spectrum of
The Director was concerned with statistics (as she should be
in her position). She said that when she took over duties
from the state, she did not even know how many children
there were in foster care. Now, after an audit, she has a
better picture of what she is managing. She showed me a
printout of the PowerPoint presentation she had recently
given for the County Commissioners, giving a statistical
snapshot of the children in her system. (I didn't have time
to look at this for as long as I wanted.) She also showed
me statistics indicating the explosion of cases entering the
child protective system, which has outpaced the growth of
the local population. I asked her if this was a result of
the meth epidemic, and she thought that it was.
Here is a document that the Director gave me listing
the 2004 Accomplishments of her department, which addresses
some of the concerns in my report.
I described very briefly what my own goals were. I said
that my first goal was to collect information on the child
welfare system and put it on my website,
www.ClarkCountyFosterCrisis.com. I said that as I collected
data, the direction of my own efforts would become more
clear. I said that my primary interest was philosophical. I
said that we are surrounded by a world of tragedy, largely
hidden from us, and DFS was a small window into that world.
I said that I was trying to figure out, morally and
ethically, how to deal with infinite tragedy.
I pointed out what I thought was the central fear of
prospective foster parents, which I hoped to deal with on my
website: Foster parents are afraid that they will bond with
a child and the child will be doing well, and then the
system pulls the child away and puts him back into the
original destructive household. The Director seemed to
appreciate this dilemma.