I-Team: Families of 10 children who died had previous contact with CPS

LAS VEGAS - More than 240 children have died in Clark County this year. While some of the deaths are the result of illnesses or accidents, some are the result of abuse.

The I-Team discovered a disturbing trend involving Child Protective Services.

Adalynn Ramirez was just 2 years old when she died after a lengthy stay in the hospital. Her mother, Joanna Cabrera, is in prison after confessing to police she abused the baby.

"That little girl was the strongest person you probably could've ever met," said Alejandro Ramirez, victim's father.

When 8 News NOW interviewed him in May, he described the warning signs and said he reported them to Child Protective Services.

CPS offers limited information, so it's difficult to confirm his claim, but according to a child welfare document, when Adalynn was a newborn, two reports were received.

CPS determined child neglect and information was provided to the family. Two months later, another report alleging abuse and neglect was found to be unsubstantiated and the case was closed.

"To this day I feel like, if they actually did their job, my daughter would still be here," Ramirez said.

The I-Team took a closer look at 22 child deaths and near deaths investigated by the Division of Children and Family Services this year through mid-July.

The I-Team discovered that the families, of 10 of the children who died and four who nearly died, had already been investigated by CPS in the past.

In May, the I-Team talked with the woman heading the agency.

"If you look back at the reports, what they don't indicate is who caused this, who the alleged perpetrator is and who the alleged victim is? I can't give you specifics and speculate on those specific cases. Anytime there's a death, it's always tragic," said Paula Hammack, Department of Family Services.

Hammack is the interim director but would like to make the job permanent after working with the agency for 25 years.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "Do you think the department is doing its job?"

"I think that child welfare is a very complex system and it's very challenging and it comes with some successes and it comes with -- again some challenges," she said.

Hammack adds, she can't share information about specific cases because state law prohibits that.

Clark County Spokesman Dan Kulin says it's unfair to place blame on CPS for the deaths of all of the 10 children who died after CPS had contact with their families.

Because he says abuse or neglect was not suspected in at least four of those deaths and he points to other factors. 

For example, in the Aaron Jones case.

CPS petitioned the court to remove a child from the family in April of 2016 after numerous investigations but the judge denied the request.

One year later, the 13-year-old was beaten, and found in the desert covered in plastic. His father is now accused of murdering him.

And in the Dominick Degraffenreid case. His father is accused of beating the three year old to death.

A report reveals a history with CPS for the family, but a source tells the I-Team, the father had never been a target of an investigation before the boy was killed.

In fact, accusations had been against another family member.

"If you look back at the reports, there was many of them that didn't have history and it resulted in a tragic death and in some of the reports, some of them did have history. Some of them have recent history. What those reports don't tell you is the circumstances at the time. So, what were the stressors within that family many years ago may not be the same circumstances or stressors in the family now," Hammack said.

Clark County Child Protective Services has had challenges for years.

In the past decade, CPS has had a constant change of leadership, overcrowding, staffing shortages, and a lack of background checks for children's placement.

And the same problem the I-Team found today. Children dying even after CPS workers had contact with families.

In 2015, a group released a report after examining CPS closely making suggestions on how to fix it.

Hammack says, since then, training has improved and communication with judges and teams within the agency.

She also tells us CPS is trying to continuously improve and in response to the I-Team's investigation.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "Is this something you would take a closer look with your team though?"

Paula Hammack: "We always do."

Vanessa Murphy: "Is this something you're already looking into?

Paula Hammack: "Yes."

There is a CPS hotline for any families in need of help or for anyone wanting to make a complaint about suspected child abuse or neglect.

The CPS hotline is (702) 399-0081. For emergencies, call 9-1-1.

Click here for a link to Clark County Family Services.

 


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