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I-TEAM: Child abuse trial highlights errors possibly made by CPS

LAS VEGAS - Child Protective Services may not be living up to its name when it comes protecting children. A trial unfolding in Clark County this week highlights CPS' actions as a main point of contention.

According to a CPS worker, back in 2010, a Wednesday's Child segment that aired on 8 News NOW, sparked the attention of  Dwight and Janet Solander. 

"They just want to be kids, normal kids; no stress, just normal, the caseworker said on the Wednesday's Child segment. "That's what I tell em. It shouldn't hurt to be a kid."

The couple reached out to CPS inquiring about how they could adopt the little girls, and they did adopt them. But, a normal childhood without stress wasn't what they received.

According to prosecutors, the children were abused and tortured in their new home and in 2014, the adoptive parents were arrested and charged.  Dwight agreed to a plea deal. But, Janet did not agree to a deal. She is now on trial facing 46 charges.

"There are some kids on your caseload that kind of really, like impact you, and I was really close to these girls," said Heather Richardson, CPS.

Richardson is the CPS worker who facilitated the adoption for the Solanders.  According to Richardson, one day she bumped into the parents with one of the girls and noticed bruises, so she contacted CPS, but nothing was ever done. 

Apparently, the girls' temporary nanny, Jan Finnegan, notified authorities as well.

Prosecutor:  "Did you get a call back from CPS?"
Jan Finnegan, former nanny: "Nothing." 

Nothing being done has been the recurring theme of the trial.

"There were five reports and investigations for child abuse, for child neglect, and CPS went and investigated and nothing was done," according to Jacqueline Bluth, the prosecutor. "These children were left in the home, and they were continued to be abused."

In fact, even more, foster children were placed in the Solander home.  The lack of action by CPS creates an opportunity for the defense.

"No documentation of anything amounting to criminal level abuse," said Dayvid Figler, defense attorney. "Indeed, as stated, CPS and DFS were in that household." 

The I-Team has been reporting about CPS' failures to take action for a while now.  This year alone so far, there are reports available for the deaths of two children in Clark County, and both families had prior contacts with CPS.  The reports said the allegations were found unsubstantiated, so the investigation was closed.

When the I-Team tries to get answers about CPS, a spokesman usually cites privacy laws, but this case may be exposing major problems within the agency.

"They asked questions, they got answers," Figler said. "None of them required the Solanders to change their methods."

Prosecutors say the Solanders claimed the girls were ill when they weren't, and that they restricted food and water from the children. 
Prosecutors say the couple also beat the girls with paint sticks.

In photos Bluth showed the jury, she explained how the girls were forced to undress from the waist down and sit on buckets for hours.  The children also didn't sleep on beds. They slept on cots or boards that didn't have sheets or pajamas, and the fan would constantly blow on them.

The jury also saw a photo of one of the girls covered in her own feces.  Bluth said the Solanders tortured the girls over bathroom use and even inserted catheters in them.

The girls lived a nightmare for two and half years, Bluth said to the jury.

"The defendant got angry and picked her up by her hair in the back of her head and repeatedly slammed her head into the counter until it got to the point that her eye was so severely injured that it closed shut," Bluth said. 

The former nanny said that she even thought about taking the girls.

"I went over to give each child a hug, and I told them I'd be praying for them and they were crying as I walked out the door. I will never forget it in my life," Finnegan said.  "I wanted to take them with me. I could've gone into Laughlin. I know officers there, but what could they have done, and I felt like I let these children down."

Finnegan said she turned to the agency specifically tasked with not letting those children down, and no action was taken.

The prosecutor told the I-Team that she believes the CPS caseworker who handled this case is still employed by the agency.

Janet Solander says she's not guilty, while her attorney argues that parenting presents challenges and that children's version of the events is not true. Janet Solander's daughter was also charged, but she too agreed to a plea deal.
 


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