Children in crisis: Nevada below national standard for monitoring child abuse cases

Published on
December 15, 2010

Reporter's note: One year ago from yesterday, 11-year-old Chandler Nash Elliott hung himself while his father was at work. We received a press release about the suicide over the fax. Like most news agencies, we do not report on suicides unless they are in a public place or the deceased is a public figure.

I told my colleagues -- and we all agreed -- that this would not make the news unless the family approached us, wanting to tell the boy's story.

The next morning, that's exactly what happened.

Grief-stricken, Chandler's birth mother and new husband came into the Tahoe Daily Tribune, wanting to speak to a reporter. I grabbed a box of tissues, led them to a conference room and shut the door.

Chandler's mother, Marie Barstow, explained that her son had been a part of the child welfare system since age 3, when she was arrested for drunken driving with her son unrestrained in the car.

The most recent contact with Nevada CPS was just a few weeks before Chandler's death.

Because Chandler was the center of a bitter custody battle between Barstow and Chandler's father, David Elliott, with whom he lived, I was careful to base all of my research and reporting on court documents, public files and confidential documents obtained by the Tribune. Note that the article features Nevada, rather than California CPS, since Chandler lived on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe. He also had a case with California CPS, since his mother lived on the California side, but we were unable to obtain those documents.

I still felt something was missing: a big-picture look at how cases like Chandler's are handled. I discovered that the state of Nevada is grossly out-of-compliance with federal standards for keeping children like Chandler safe in their home during and after an investigation. I interviewed state child welfare officials, who outlined the improvement plan put into place in October.

I also wrote four supporting stories branching out from the main article, with the intent to highlight the other services in place to support children and families in crisis. The next story, set for Dec. 22, is an interview with a woman who had her infant taken away due to her drug addiction and her husband's abuse. It was a long road, but she kicked drugs, has her son back (now age 4) and counsels others in recovery.

Thank you for reading. The complete story is available here.