The scorecard released Tuesday by the University of San Diego School of Law and child advocacy group First Star gives Nevada 98 out of 100 points for its disclosure policies. The only other states to earn an A-plus were Arizona, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
“Transparency is a huge, huge, important factor because we’re responsible for Nevada’s most frail population,” said Chrystal Main, spokeswoman for Nevada’s Division of Child and Welfare Services.
Researchers praised Nevada for the breadth and strength of its policy, which requires authorities to describe in detail what kind of contact children had with child welfare workers before a death or serious injury.
Washoe and Clark counties also require child abuse proceedings to be open by default, unless it’s in the child’s best interest to close the hearings.
Nevada’s score improved three points since the group last issued its State Secrecy Report in 2008. It bested neighboring California, which earned a C-plus, and came in well above Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico and Montana, which received D’s or F’s.
But Nevada hasn’t always been a model in reporting the child abuse information. Main says the overhaul came after “an alarming number of fatalities in Clark County” in the early 2000s.
The spate of suspected abuse-related deaths prompted the state to set up a panel, chaired by a supreme court justice, to review how it keeps track of data.
“We determined we had a lot of gaps in the process,” Main said.
After the panel came up with ways to improve the system, including strict deadlines for when information about an abuse or neglect death was added to the database, the rules became law in 2007.
While authors of the study commend Nevada for the disclosure policy, the report notes that “other aspects of the state’s child protection and foster care system may be in serious need of reform.”
It notes an April 2010 lawsuit filed by the National Center for Youth Law on behalf of 13 individuals and different categories of children within the Clark County foster care system. The suit, which is pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, alleges state and county officials aren’t protecting the health and safety of foster children.
As for whether the strong disclosure policies translate into fewer child abuse or neglect deaths in Nevada, Main called it “one variable in a very complicated question.”
“Our citizens are becoming more judicious,” she said. “It raises awareness.”