On Sept. 23, two Clark County Department of Family Services employees traveled down a gravel road in Sandy Valley and parked along a fence near a travel trailer on a two-acre dirt lot.
Twenty minutes after the foster parent licensing staff members honked the horn, Andrea Hernandez, a licensed foster parent since 2008, emerged from the trailer, according to a Las Vegas police report.
She had two foster children in her care — a 2-month-old boy and a 17-month-old boy — and was angry with the Family Services employees, who were there because the children were being kept at an unapproved location in the remote desert community 50 miles southwest of Las Vegas, according to the report.
“You can just take the kids,” said Hernandez, according to the report. After Family Services’ staff secured the children in their vehicle, Hernandez said: “I hope you can sleep well tonight.”
Both children showed signs of neglect, not all of it recent. The 17-month-old boy had burn scars; the younger one had a widespread, severe skin infection.
Hernandez, 38, and her husband, Waldo O. Hernandez, 40, are no longer foster parents and face criminal charges of child abuse, neglect or endangerment in connection with the case. They declined a request to be interviewed while jailed at the Clark County Detention Center.
The Department of Family Services says its policy on monitoring children in foster care was followed, and it handled the case correctly.
“In fact it was the DFS licensing staff that discovered the injuries, removed the children, and got the police investigation started,” Kristi Jourdan, Family Services spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
But the slow response described in police reports raises questions about the department’s actions.
The Department of Family Services reclaimed the children almost three weeks after receiving its first report alleging neglect, according to the police report, which is based on statements from county employees who handled the case. And it’s unclear why problems went unnoticed by Family Services workers who reportedly saw the older boy weeks earlier, and who might have acted much sooner to protect him.
How things happened in this case raises red flags, said Donna Coleman, a longtime child advocate and co-founder of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance.
“It could have been a lot worse, and it has been a lot of times,” Coleman said. “If they had a neglect report and they’re not able to get a hold of (the foster parents), they needed to move on that and figure it out ASAP.”