Testimony supporting LB957 to Adopt the Office of Inspector General for the Nebraska Child Welfare Act

Nebraska State CapitolSenator Kathy Campbell

Chair, Health and Human Services Committee
Room 1402, State Capitol
Lincoln, NE 68509

Chairwoman Campbell and members of the Health and Human Services Committee,

On behalf of the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, I am here to testify in support of LB 957.

We support LB 957 because we believe ongoing oversight and assessment of the provision of child welfare services that involves all three branches of government is imperative to establishing needed accountability in the system. We also support the idea of having a dedicated ombudsman who is able to investigate issues and make recommendations regarding systemic reform as well as case-specific action and that findings and recommendations will be reported to the Legislature and tracked on an annual basis.

In addition, our office receives a significant volume of intake calls from families with frustrations and concerns about the system and how it has operated in their case. In some situations, these issues may be difficult to address in the context of a juvenile court case. While we can and do refer some of these intake calls to the Ombudsman’s office and the Foster Care Review Board currently, we believe LB 957 would provide a process to investigate and assess circumstances where an individual has a report of more significant violations.

As currently written, however, there are a couple of pieces we would urge the committee to look at carefully. First, LB 957 establishes somewhat broad authority for the Inspector General. It would be important for the Committee to carefully consider any potential consequences that this new process could have in ongoing juvenile court cases as well as any separate legal claims an individual may have. Second, the Inspector General’s authority to investigate reports involving not only the Department and providers, but also foster parents, seems to create the potential to overwhelm resources and prevent the office from reaching some of the critical system issues.

In conclusion, we believe the audits and reports provided through the LR 37 process have been invaluable to identifying core issues and developing proposals to address them. We are strongly supportive of a creating a mechanism to maintain that oversight and program review and to establish much needed transparency in the system.

We thank the Committee for your comprehensive assessment of the child welfare reform as part of LR 37, and for your time and dedication to identifying core problems and advancing comprehensive solutions.

Sincerely,

Sarah Helvey
Staff Attorney/Director
Child Welfare System Accountability Program

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