Abandoned, Abused or Neglected – An Overview of a Child’s Entry Into the Dependency Court System

Past Life. Lisa is a bilingual attorney who brings to her leadership over eighteen years’ experience representing legal aid clients in every substantive area served by NNLA. Before law school, Lisa drafted declarations for Chilean torture survivors to support Pinochet’s extradition and she represented Central American asylum seekers fleeing civil war. During law school, Lisa prepared an amicus brief for the Canadian War Crimes Tribunal to support the exercise of universal jurisdiction to prosecute a former Hutu government official residing in Canada accused of inciting genocide in Rwanda.

Latest Inspiration. Lisa is captivated by the city of Houston’s success in reducing homelessness by sixty percent. Houston makes its 100 nonprofits work in concert to great effect: https://www.thewayhomehouston.org/. In keeping with this example, Lisa has partnered with Nevada Legal Services (NLS) to jointly serve clients every weekday at the Civil Law Self-Help Center located in the Reno Justice Court. As NLS Executive Director, Peter Wetherall rightly noted, “our clients don’t care what our organizations are called.” It just matters that we help them.

Lisa Evans, Executive Director

Lisa Evans

Executive Director

Past Life. In her current role, Krissta has now served four legal aid organization. She started at Nevada Legal Services in Las Vegas, then Micronesian Legal Services in Saipan, and during the pandemic, Legal Services of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas. At NLS, Krissta was promoted to Statewide Pro Bono Director, where she spearheaded important projects like creating family law self-help forms for the Fifth Judicial District Court in Nye County.   

Latest Inspiration. Krissta recently initiated a new collaboration with the ABA’s Children’s Immigration Law Academy that finds pro bono representation for unaccompanied minors and other child immigrant cases. https://cilacademy.org/pro-bono-matters/.

Krissta Kirschenheiter, Executive Team Attorney.

Krissta Kirschenheiter

Executive Team Attorney

Past life. Jill has been licensed since 1993 and actively practicing for 30 years in a diverse spectrum of legal matters:  Insurance Defense, Collections, Personal Injury, Mass Torts, Bankruptcy, the entire spectrum of Family Law, with even a bit of criminal defense, administrative law, and general civil litigation. 

Latest Inspiration. In her new role, Jill has committed herself to streamlining NNLA intake procedures across our service locations so that “no matter where or how a potential client comes to us they will receive the same service.” Jill has also just launched a new Custody Basics Class this summer presented every two weeks to the public and partner agencies. She expects to offer it in Spanish in the new year.

Jill Whitbeck, Director of Intake Programs.

Jill Whitbeck

Director of Intake Programs

Past life. Jennifer most recently served as the Chief Rights Attorney for Nevada. Jennifer oversaw COVID legal response, worked on innovative projects, and filed briefing before the Nevada Supreme Court and Court of Appeals on litigation matters impacting older adults and persons with disabilities. Jennifer also authored legislation to create the Vulnerable Adult Fatality Review Team in Nevada and provide protections for persons living in long term care settings.      

Latest Inspiration. Jennifer is excited to try to bring The Legal Risk Detector Tool to Northern Nevada. This online referral process technology helps legal and social service providers work together to address the needs of our most vulnerable residents. https://www.probono.net/programs/risk-detector/. Jennifer is also eager to take our Medical Legal Partnership to the next level and increase caseload capacity of our Senior Legal Center by expanding its pro bono program.

Jennifer Richards, Supervisor, Senior Law Center.

Jennifer Richards

Supervisor, Senior Law Center

Past Life. Elena is a five-year veteran of our Senior Law Center, where she assisted senior citizens with civil legal matters. Prior to this, she worked for Volunteer Attorney’s for Rural Nevadans, (VARN) and assisting clients in family law matters.

Latest Inspiration. Elena was recently promoted to supervisor of the Civil Law Self-Help Center, now located on the first floor of the Reno Justice Court. In conjunction with NLS, Elena ensures that self-represented litigants access the correct court forms by working with court staff and connects visitors to social safety net resources provided by community partners. Elena will expand self-help services as demand increases both in and outside Washoe County.

Elena Butko, Supervisor, Civil Law Self-Help Center.

Elena Butko

Supervisor, Civil Law Self-Help Center

Past Life. Lee was a public defender in Nevada for ten years. He served as a Criminal Court and Family Court judge in New York City for 17 years. He wrote a book on the law of domestic violence in New York. Lee also served on the Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children and is a graduate of the National Judicial College’s permanency planning institute.

Enduring Inspiration. Lee has always been concerned about the imbalance of power between those with and without resources. Coming of age as a lawyer during the Warren Court years, Lee studied the Court’s efforts to balance the scales of equity by the application of law. In his new role, Lee will strive to partner with the local legal community to improve the lives of our fellow Washoe County residents by assisting with their legal challenges. He greatly appreciates the dedication of the local bar to justice for everyone. Reach Lee at impactlit@nnlegalaid.org.

Lee Elkins, Director of Strategic Advocacy and Impact Litigation.

Lee Elkins

Director of Strategic Advocacy and Impact Litigation


We offer meaningful life’s work and a healthy work-life balanced 35-hour work-week. Email careers@nnlegalaid.org or view our job openings. Or start by volunteering on a case: probono@nnlegalaid.org.



We offer meaningful life’s work and a healthy work-life balanced 35-hour work-week. Email careers@nnlegalaid.org or visit our job openings page. Or start by volunteering on a case by emailing probono@nnlegalaid.org.

A gavel

 The following article was initially published in the August Edition of Nevada Lawyer as a CLE article. To view the original publication click here >


Thousands of children in Nevada are currently the subject of dependency court cases. The procedures for their removal from parents or other adult care givers are strictly governed by statute and early judicial review.

Circumstances arise daily in our communities whereby children may need protection due to lack of an available caregiver or lack of a safe caregiver. They may be as egregious as sexual exploitation, or as simple as a failure to provide for the basic needs of the child.

  • Imagine yourself driving by the scene of an accident and witnessing an adult being loaded into an ambulance or the back of a patrol car. You then notice children on the side of the road or back of a separate patrol car – what happens to those kids?
  • Consider for a moment the circumstances of a child that has been detained at a juvenile facility or being treated in an acute care mental facility but the need for said detention or treatment has concluded.
  • What happens if an overwhelmed parent decides they cannot or will not pick their child up when they are released?
  • What happens to a newborn baby that is born suffering withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal substance exposure?


Children of an age to express themselves under these, and a multitude of similar scenarios will often have some very basic, and understandable questions.


What Is Going On? Why Am I Being Taken Away?

In Nevada, an abandoned child or one that has been abused or neglected is deemed by law to be in need of protection. Abuse is defined as physical or mental injury of a nonaccidental nature, sexual exploitation, or sexual abuse. Neglect is defined in Nevada as the failure to provide for these needs or a failure to provide proper care, control, and supervision of a child as necessary for the welfare of the child or the refusal to do so when able to. Neglect may take the form of abandonment or the failure to provide for the needs of a child (often referred to as ‘basic needs’) relating to food, clothing, shelter, education as required by law, or adequate medical care. Other circumstances that require protection might also include if the person responsible for the welfare of the child is unable to discharge their duties due to hospitalization, incarceration, or other physical or mental incapacity. NRS 432B.330. A child may need protection based upon more than one underlying cause, i.e., both neglect and abuse. Additionally, a parent or other person responsible for the child’s welfare may consent to having their child placed in protective custody. NRS 432B.390.

According to the most recent publicly released data (February 2023), the vast majority of children that are the subject of abuse or neglect in the United States are victims of some form of neglect–76%; while slightly more than 16% are physically abused, and about 10% are abused sexually. See U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, Child Maltreatment 2021, available at https://wwwacf.hhs.gov/cb/data-research/child-maltreatment (2023).


Who Are You?

Invariably it is a stranger that removes a child from a circumstance where they are in danger or lack a safe caregiver. Nevada law identifies the people that can place a child in protective custody; they include a law enforcement agent, a juvenile probation officer or a designee of an agency which provides child welfare services. If the agent, officer, or designee has reasonable cause to believe that immediate action is necessary to protect the child from injury, abuse, or neglect they can statutorily take protective custody of the child. If exigent circumstances are not present or the threat to the child is not imminent, a warrant will be sought, and if granted, a child may be placed in protective custody.


Where Am I Going?

Pending a hearing on the need for protective custody, children must be placed in one of four settings: a hospital (if needed); with suitable and able relative or other fictive kin; in a licensed foster home; or in a licensed shelter that provides care to children under such circumstances.  Hopefully, a relative or other person known to the child can be located and is able and willing to care for the child, otherwise the child will be placed with people they do not know. Whenever possible, a child in protective custody pending an investigation and hearing must be placed with any siblings of that child. NRS 432B.390. Due to a lack of available licensed homes, it is not uncommon for larger sibling groups to be separated.


How Long Do I Stay Here? What Happens Next?

Following an emergency removal or the granting of a warrant, Nevada law requires a hearing be set to determine if the child should remain in protective custody pending further court action. The hearing must be held within 72 hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and judicial holidays).  Notice of the hearing must be provided to a parent or other person responsible for the child’s welfare. NRS 432B.470. Common examples of persons responsible for the child’s welfare other than a parent are guardians, a stepparent with whom the child lives, or an adult person continually or regularly found in the same household as the child. NRS 432B.130. The subject of the action–the child–does not need to be notified or present for the hearing.

At the hearing, a determination is made as to whether there is reasonable cause to believe that it would be contrary to the welfare of the child to reside at his or her home, or if it is in the best interests of the child to place the child outside of his or her home. The court will order the immediate release of the child if it finds his or her best interests do not require protective custody. Alternatively, the court may issue an order maintaining protective custody pending a disposition. The court must determine if the placement of the child complies with Nevada law, and if not shall establish a plan with the agency which provides child welfare services for the prompt transfer to a placement that complies. NRS 432B.480.

An order maintaining protective custody is good for 10 days, by which time the agency shall file a petition alleging the child is in need of continuing protection. NRS 432B.490. A petition need not be filed if the circumstances giving rise to protective custody have been remedied or no longer exist, in which case the child is returned.

Upon the filing, an adjudicatory hearing is set to allow the parties to admit or deny the allegations, and if denied hear evidence on the petition. Evidentiary rules are relaxed in this proceeding and all relevant and material evidence may be allowed and relied upon to the extent of its probative value. The parties are afforded the opportunity to controvert any such evidence and examine witnesses. The court may require the presence of the child at this hearing. NRS 432B.530.


How Does the Judge Know What I Want To Happen?

In Nevada, a child alleged to have been abused or neglected is a party to the action and the court is required to appoint an attorney to represent the child in all stages of the proceedings with the same rights and authority as an attorney representing the other parties. NRS 432B.420.

This is only the beginning of a child’s dependency case. The goal of these cases is to find permanency for the child, and for them to exit the dependency system when it is safe to do so.


Who Will Represent Me?

Throughout the great state of Nevada, Northern Nevada Legal Aid and Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada provide legal representation for children in dependency and related proceedings through their respective Child Advocacy Programs. Additionally, opportunities to fulfill pro bono publico hours are available for attorneys that have a heart for working with children through what is likely to be the most difficult circumstances of their young life. The resolution of such cases, and the child’s legally represented participation in it, will leave a lasting impression on them as they continue into adulthood. If you are interested in pursuing a pro bono opportunity, please contact:

  • Northern Nevada Legal Aid (formerly known as Washoe Legal Services): Sean Stapleton, Pro Bono & Communications Manager, at sstapleton@nnlegalaid.org or (775) 321-2066
  • Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada: Carmen Ramirez, PB/CAP Liaison for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, at cramirez@lacsn.org or (702) 386-1551


About the Author   Jeff Briggs headshot - Supervising Attorney of Northern Nevada Legal Aid's Child Advocacy Department

Jeff Briggs has practiced law in Nevada for over twenty-six years, the last eleven of which have been devoted exclusively to child welfare law. He currently supervises the Child Advocacy Program for Northern Nevada Legal Aid with a team of ten lawyers representing nearly 1,000 children in six counties across Nevada.

Leave a Reply

Skip to content