Aaron Jones was a 13-year-old boy whose body was found in the desert in 2017 in Las Vegas.
A grand jury later indicted his father and step-mother on murder charges. Clark County records, however, show almost 10 years of reports made about a chaotic home life and abuse in the family.
And Aaron's case is not an isolated one. Arthur Kane is an investigative reporter at the Las Vegas Review-Journal who recently wrote about the history of abuse claims made to child protective services that later lead to death.
Kane told KNPR's State of Nevada that he looked through Child Protective Services records from 2012 through 2017.
“We found that 36 percent of the children who died in homicides in Clark County in the past seven years, under the age of 13, had prior contact with child protection workers,” he said.
That means a worker investigated a complaint of abuse or neglect before the child's death. It brings up the question: Why didn't the county prevent these deaths?
“I found the response from the county interesting because they said they would like to see a higher percentage of CPS contacts with families before the deaths," Kane said, "I guess their reasoning is they want to know about all the families that are in crisis so that they would hopefully prevent the deaths.”
In the case of Aaron Jones, Kane said the county had plenty of signs there were problems with his family and "they weren't able to prevent his death."
The signs included reports from school officials warning of Aaron's home life, including allegations that his mother, who he was not living with at the time of this death, would lose track of her children, wouldn't take them to school and would make "bizarre statements" to the school.
Kane said when he looked at the files on Aaron's case he found interesting facts about how the allegations were investigated.
“When you look at them, CPS had unsubstantiated a lot of these allegations but when you read them, they’re from police reports," he said, "They’re from legitimate sources like school officials. It is very difficult to see how they could unsubstantiate it.”
In one instance, the children disappeared at 4 a.m. It was alleged that Aaron's mother was negligent but the county said that wasn’t substantiated negligence.
“I think that is really problematic for a lot of people when they see on the face of it that any person would say, ‘Yeah, that is negligence.’ And the worker said, ‘No, it’s not,” Kane said.
Kane noted that some of the problems with CPS can be traced back to Nevada's laws.
For instance, the judicial hearing master who allowed Aaron's dad - Paul Jones - to take custody, despite the fact that his father had a previous child abuse conviction, told Kane that under Nevada law parents have "presumptive right" to custody unless there was something overwhelming in the case.
Since the abuse conviction did not involve Aaron or his sibling, the two children at the center of the custody case, the hearing master allowed Paul Jones to have custody.
Another questionable Nevada law makes it easy for CPS to lose track of families, Kane said. In Nevada, a worker must try to contact a family four times. If they cannot find them, the case is marked as 'unsubstantiated.'
“The abuse is then recorded in this record has basically not ever happening,” Kane said.
In comparison, in Los Angeles County, if a family cannot be contacted, the case is marked as 'inconclusive,' which means the case is still open and workers can continue to try to find the family and not shut the door on the case.
“We found several cases in Nevada where these things were found unsubstantiated and then they found the family only because a child dies in their care," Kane said, "That’s a problem that is a pretty easy fix.”
There have long been cries to fix Southern Nevada's child protective services system. Advocates and staff have long said the system needs more resources.
While Kane agreed that money and staffing are a problem, he said there is more to it than just more funding. In Aaron Jones' case, for instance, CPS had 100 contacts with the family.
“But then they made these inexplicable decisions that the average rational person would question. And so, I don’t know that more resources would have saved Aaron,” he said.
Kane wonders if CPS workers checked on Aaron and his sibling after his father gained custody to see the living conditions. The family of 12 children and two adults were living in a 900 square-foot weekly rental when Aaron died.
He said the record doesn't show if anyone checked on them.
Arthur Kane, investigative reporter, Las Vegas Review-Journal
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