On Sunday night, a drunk driver wrecked his car in northwest Las Vegas, critically injuring a 10-year-old who wasn’t wearing a seat belt. It was tragic but didn’t rank as alarming—not, say, as alarming as two weeks prior when a dead 2-year-old was found in a Dumpster on Sierra Vista. The little girl’s life and death played out like this: Her mother was a prostitute; her mother’s pimp raped and beat her to death.
And while that ranked as horrendous, it still couldn’t be called altogether uncommon in the tableau of children’s welfare this spring in the Las Vegas Valley. Recent events include: a Clark County School District bus driver was arrested for sexually assaulting a 5-year-old; a 9-year-old was shot and killed by passersby in her living room in North Las Vegas; a man in the south Valley bound two toddlers in car seats and abandoned them in a garage; a North Las Vegas 10-year-old shot a 7-year-old and fled to a nearby elementary school. His mother is being charged with child neglect and abandonment.
If only these were a few random horrors. Christine Skorupski, spokesperson for Clark County’s Department of Family Services, says the agency has seen a steady increase in the number of children it’s having to remove from unsafe situations, as well as the number of calls to the child-abuse hotline.
From January through the end of May, the hotline received 3,913 calls alleging child neglect and abuse. Those calls resulted in 2,953 CPS investigations. Through those investigations, 738 homes were found to be abusive. As a result, 976 children were placed outside of their homes in foster care or shelters, bringing the total of kids in Clark County’s care to 3,133.
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Between March and May, the agency had 1,500 additional calls to the hotline, and the number of substantiated investigations more than doubled in two months. The average number of substantiated allegations against children in March was 278; the average in May was 360.
When asked to theorize about why there’s been an increase, Skorupski says it’s a common question with no clear-cut answer. “People would like it to be the economic decline, but we can’t definitely say that,” Skorupski says. “There are some definite correlations—stressors begin to rise in a family, and that’s when abuse and neglect rises.
“Oftentimes, these people are undereducated and under-resourced,” Skorupski says of garden-variety abusers.
For a long time, the rap on Vegas has been that it’s a bad place for kids: The education is not funded to be top-notch; the place is saturated in sex, gambling and booze; shift-work child care is a bear. Add to that a steady stream of visiting child predators—about 400 kids a month are sold for sex here, according to Shared Hope International, a Virginia-based nonprofit—and it seems like a treacherous place for children.
Perhaps, though, it’s good that we can’t lay blame squarely on the economy. That’d make it too easy to shrug off—we’ve gotten pretty comfortable with chalking up bankruptcies and layoffs and foreclosures to the recession, sitting in one of America’s hardest-hit cities as we are, houses underwater and the market flooded with unemployed people. But one would hope there are a few things—half a million children—we’d hold above the deluge.