Foster Care Reform Update August 2, 2016

POLICY SPOTLIGHT

Human Trafficking – The Survivor Voice

In a new report released by the Women’s Fund of Omaha, research from the University of Nebraska Lincoln and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, reveals the experiences of 22 survivors of human trafficking in Nebraska. This type of report is a first of its kind in the state, and shows the complex trauma facing survivors of sex trafficking. The report, “Nothing About Us Without Us, Sex Trafficking in Nebraska: The Survivor Voice,” details the in-depth interviews with 22 survivors, ranging in age from 19 to 47, from the Lincoln and Omaha area. While growing up, 54.6% of those interviewed grew up in foster care, 40.9% with their parents, and 4.6% in a group home.

According to the report, the major themes from participants included:

  • “Fear coerces women into being trafficked and staying in ‘the life’,
  • the drug trade and addiction are intertwined with sex trafficking,
  • technology eases buyers’ access to and exploitation of the market,
  • general public’s lack of understanding leads to systemic repression of choices for change,
  • fear of judgement, shame, and victimization from providers limits ability to seek help, and
  • current law enforcement responses are not survivor-friendly.”

The survivors explained their most immediate needs include trafficking-specific safe houses and substance abuse treatment, while survivor-directed mental health care, life skills and peer support through a community of survivors were noted as the ongoing needs of survivors. Also, the survivors commented on the need for increased awareness to bring about the necessary solutions of comprehensive services and first responders that are trauma and survivor informed. Because survivors felt much stigma surrounding the issue of human trafficking, they felt public education and awareness was essential. Participants also stressed the importance of the expungement of criminal activity on records for charges such like prostitution.

Young people who are or were previously in the foster care system have been continuously found to be disproportionately represented as victims of human trafficking. This unfortunate statistic was confirmed by the data in this report, with a majority of survivors in Omaha and Lincoln growing up in foster care or a group home. Acknowledging this disparity, child welfare attorneys must take steps to identify and address human trafficking with their clients. Recently, services have also expanded through the work of the Attorney General’s Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force and the Salvation Army. In addition to explaining the issue of human trafficking, our updated policy brief, Child Welfare and Sex Trafficking in Nebraska, includes recent federal and state changes to laws affecting survivors of human trafficking.


COURT OPINIONS

In re Interest of Charity N. et al., No. A-15-908
Decided July 5, 2016 (not designated for permanent publication)

The Nebraska Court of Appeals affirmed an order of the juvenile court and concluded in a memorandum opinion that the juvenile court did not err in terminating the parental rights of the mother as to all three of her children, and did not err in terminating the parental rights of both fathers. In this case, the State sought termination of the mother’s rights to her older children pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-292(2), (5), (6), and (7) and pursuant to § 43-292(2) and (5) for the youngest child. The State also sought to terminate the parental rights of the father of the younger children pursuant to § 43-292(2), (6), and (7) and sought to terminate the parental rights of the eldest child’s father pursuant to § 43-292(1), (2), (7) and (9). The juvenile court eventually terminated the parental rights of all three parents and each separately appealed. The Court of Appeals determined that the juvenile court had correctly found that the State had shown by clear and convincing evidence that the that the two eldest children had been in an out-of-home placement for at least 15 of the most recent 22 months and it was necessary to determine whether the termination of the mother’s, and the fathers’ parental rights were in the best interests of the children. As to the youngest child, the Court of Appeals concluded that the juvenile court did not err in finding that the child was within the meaning of § 43-292(2), as to both his mother and father. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the child had been substantially and continuously neglected by the mother, even though the she had completed an intensive family preservation (IFP) program, because she left the child in the care of an unapproved individual, she stopped complying with urinalysis, she had stopped attending family team meetings, and the mother eventually stopped engaging in all services. The Court of Appeals concluded that termination was warranted as to the child’s father because he had not been in the child’s life for nearly a year, he did not engage in urinalysis, visitation, therapy or treatment, a chemical evaluation, and did not show any interest in parenting the child until he was removed from the mother’s care. The Court of Appeals determined that the termination of the youngest two children was in their best interest because of the mother’s prior use of methamphetamines, the multiple removals of the second oldest child, the incidents of domestic violence between the children’s mother and their fathers, the mother’s lack of adequate housing, and her failure to complete her case plan. Additionally, termination was in the younger children’s best interests because the children had been in out of home placements for a significant part of their lives, the father failed to engage in services offered in his case plan, the father’s history of domestic violence, the permanency of the father’s housing situation, and the father’s unwillingness to provide stability for the children. Lastly, the Court concluded that the termination of the mother’s rights was in the best interests of the eldest child for all of the aforementioned reasons and that termination of the father’s rights was in the best interests of the child because of his current physical disability, his past and present disinterest in forming a bond with the child, and his unwillingness to work with caseworkers. Read the full opinion.

 

In re Interest of Ravin L., No. A-15-1048
Decided July 12, 2016 (not designated for permanent publication)

The Nebraska Court of Appeals affirmed an order of the juvenile court which terminated a father’s parental rights because he had substantially and continuously neglected his child. In this case the child was removed from his mother’s home in the Fall of 2013, but the father was not allowed to have visitation with the child due to the concerns of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) regarding the father’s mental health, previous substance abuse, and the length of time the father had not been in the child’s life. The father engaged in a parenting assessment so DHHS could determine whether contact was appropriate, but the contact does not seem to have occurred because of the father’s incarceration for possession and attempt to distribute methamphetamine. While incarcerated the father was charged with the assault of another inmate and continued to be incarcerated throughout the juvenile court proceedings. The State filed a petition alleging that the father’s parental rights should be terminated pursuant to § 43-292(1) and (2) and that termination was in the child’s best interests. The juvenile court terminated the father’s rights and the father appealed alleging that the juvenile court erred in finding that the statutory grounds for termination had been met and that termination was in the best interests of the child. The Court of Appeals concluded that the State had presented clear and convincing evidence that the child was within the meaning of § 43-292(2) because the father would be unable to provide the child with food, housing, or perform any of his parental obligations because of his incarceration. The Court of Appeals also noted that the father engaged in a pattern of criminal behavior, committed crimes during the pendency of the juvenile proceedings, and the father’s pattern of incarceration had prevented him from becoming a fixture in the child’s life. The Court of Appeals then determined that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interests because the father was not a fit parent, had a lengthy history of incarceration, was unable to be a stable or appropriate parent for the child, the child was thriving with his foster parents, and the child did not have a bond with the father. Read the full opinion.


LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS

FEDERAL LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives quickly passed the bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act. The FFA would make a number of changes to the federal funding of foster care to disincentivize unnecessary “non-family” placements for children in the foster care system and to increase the availability of funding to prevent families from entering the foster care system in the first place. Tell Nebraska’s U.S. Senators the Senate must pass the FFPSA without delay when senators return from summer recess.

Click here to see a chart of final actions on all child welfare and juvenile justice bills tracked this session by Nebraska Appleseed and our friends at Voices for Children in Nebraska.

INTERIM STUDIES

LR 513 (Sen. Howard) – Interim study to examine workforce issues within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

  • Last action – Referred to Health and Human Services Committee

 

LR 514 (Sen. Bolz) – Interim study to examine the availability of transition services for youth who will leave or have left the juvenile justice system while in an out-of-home placement.

  • Last action – Referred to Health and Human Services Committee

 

LR 523 (Sen. Howard) – Interim study to examine Nebraska law regarding the protection of children who have reached eighteen years of age but have not yet reached the age of majority.

  • Last action – Referred to Health and Human Services Committee

 

LR 529 (Sen. Howard) – Interim study to examine the ongoing implementation of the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014 and related state law and policy.

  • Last action – Referred to Health and Human Services Committee

 

LR 544 (Sen. Crawford) – Interim study to examine the alternative response demonstration projects created in LB 853, 2014.

  • Last action – Referred to Health and Human Services Committee

 

LR 545 (Sen. Campbell) – Interim study to examine medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, with an emphasis on children that are eligible but unenrolled in these programs.

  • Last action – Referred to Health and Human Services Committee

 

LR 551 (Sen. Krist) – Interim study to explore and assess the use of congregate care in Nebraska for youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

  • Last action – Referred to Health and Human Services Committee

 

LR 561 (Sen. Krist) – Interim study to examine the effectiveness, economic stability, and long-term viability of the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney and the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Geneva

  • Last action – Referred to Judiciary Committee

 

LR 576 (Sen. Pansing Brooks) – Interim study to examine children’s access to legal counsel in juvenile proceedings across the state of Nebraska.

  • Last action – Referred to Judiciary Committee

Click here to see a chart of the introduced child welfare and juvenile justice interim studies.

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