Foster Care Reform Update – October 31, 2016

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Policy Spotlight: Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Legislative Resolution Hearings
  • Court Opinions: In re Interest of Jameson S. et al., In re Interest of Angeleah M. and Ava M.
  • Legislative Actions: Nebraska Interim Studies
  • Announcements: Appleseed Blog

POLICY SPOTLIGHT

Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Legislative Resolution Hearings

As the 2017 Nebraska Legislative Session approaches, legislative resolution hearings have been taking place at the Legislature. Three child welfare and juvenile justice interim study hearings have occurred recently, including LR 513, LR 514, and LR 529.

LR 513, introduced by Senator Howard, studied workforce issues within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The annual report from the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare highlighted that Nebraska has been out of compliance with state statute for many consecutive years with significant implications for the safety of children and made recommendations focused on decreasing caseload and workload for caseworkers, strengthening the workforce, increasing coordination between agencies serving children, and enhancing performance monitoring. At the hearing, senators had many questions for Doug Weinberg, Director of the Division of Children and Family Services, as to current workforce challenges, the heavy workload for Hotline and Initial Assessment workers, worker retention, and recruiting staff to fill vacancies. Senator Campbell, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, mentioned the ongoing work to address high caseloads over her time in the Legislature.  And we expect that the Legislature and Inspector General will continue to be focused on this issue in 2017.  Click here to read Appleseed’s written testimony on LR 513.

LR 514, introduced by Senator Bolz, studied the availability of transition services for older youth who will leave or have left the juvenile justice system while in an out-of-home placement. Senator Bolz spoke about the importance of creating a program similar to the Bridge to Independence Program, that currently provides extended services and support to older youth exiting the system, to coincide with the state’s focus on reforming the adult justice system. Testifiers from Voices for Children and Mainspring Consulting discussed the eligibility criteria and predicted costs for such a program. Other testifiers included the Juvenile Services Divisions in the Office of Probation Administration and a young women with experience in the juvenile justice system.

LR 529, introduced by Senator Howard, examined the ongoing implementation of the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014 and related Nebraska state law and policy. The Normalcy Task Force, a subgroup of the Nebraska Children’s Commission which was statutorily created in the last Legislative session with LB 746, provided updates on the recommendations that the Normalcy Task Force will be submitting to the Nebraska Children’s Commission on November 15th. These recommendations will be broken down within the work of five subcommittees focused on an effective grievance process, training, the needs of children who go missing from care to prevent sex trafficking, ensuing normalcy for all youth in care.  At the interim study hearing, there was also an update from the group working to bring youth, families, and the community into the process and the Task Force’s efforts to update the current DHHS Youth Bill of Rights, as well as testimony from a young woman who noted the difference normalcy would have made in her life as not only a system-involved youth but also as a mother.

Nebraska Appleseed will continue to advocate for and monitor these topics of systemic reform in the upcoming legislative session.

COURT OPINIONS

In re Interest of Jameson S. et al., No. A-16-243
Decided October 11, 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 a father pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-292(6). In this case, the children were removed from the father’s home after it was found to be in a “filthy and unwholesome condition” and the children were found to be within the meaning of § 43-247(3)(a). The children were placed back in their parental home and the juvenile court ordered the father to cooperate with Intensive Family Preservation (IFP) services, abstain from alcohol and other controlled substances, comply with drug testing, obtain a legal source of income, and provide safe housing to the children. Four months later, the children were removed from the father’s home after he tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana. The State eventually filed a petition seeking to terminate the father’s rights alleging that the father had failed to substantially comply with his case plan, and that termination was in the children’s best interests. The juvenile court terminated the rights of the father pursuant to pursuant to § 43-292(2) and (6) and the father appealed alleging that the juvenile court erred in finding clear and convincing evidence that the children were within the meaning of § 43-292(2) and (6), and that termination was in their best interests. 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 father’s children were within the meaning of § 43-292(6) because the father had consistently failed to provide the children with proper care, he failed to cooperate during family therapy and IFP services, failed to obtain employment due to his failure to obtain an ID card, he made minimal efforts to obtain adequate housing, his continued use of marijuana, and he failed to participate in urinalysis or drug and alcohol treatment. The Court of Appeals then concluded that the termination of the father’s rights was in the best interests of the children because the father was an unfit parent due to his failure to comply with the juvenile court’s rehabilitation plan, his failure to care for the children properly, the length of time the children had been in out of the father’s home, and his unwillingness to provide the children with permanency. Read the full opinion.

In re Interest of Angeleah M. and Ava M., No. A-16-189
Decided October 11, 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 father as to his two children. The Court of Appeals concluded that the State had proven by clear and convincing evidence that the children were within the meaning of § 43-292(7) and that termination of the father’s rights was in the children’s best interests. In this factually complex case, the children were initially taken into the custody of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), while the father was incarcerated, in 2011 due to the faults and habits of their mother. The father was released from prison in 2012 and started supervised visitation with the children through 2013, until he was incarcerated again for the violation of his parole. In 2013, the State filed a petition to terminate the father’s parental rights, the juvenile court ordered that the father’s rights be terminated, and the termination was reversed by the Nebraska Court of Appeals. Subsequently, the juvenile court issued a dispositional order changing the permanency objective to reunification with an alternative plan for adoption, and ordering the father to comply with a variety of services provided by DHHS. The father appealed the dispositional order and the Nebraska Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the juvenile court. Furthermore, during this appeal, the father’s visitation with the children was suspended, the father appealed the suspension of his visitation, and the father’s appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. In 2015, the State filed another motion to terminate the father’s parental rights pursuant to § 43-292(1), (2), (6), and (7) and the juvenile court again terminated the father’s rights. The father appealed alleging that the juvenile court erred in finding statutory grounds to terminate his parental rights and in finding that termination was in the best interests of the children. The Court of Appeals determined that the juvenile court did not err in finding statutory grounds to terminate the father’s parental rights because both children had been in an out-of-home placement for at least 15 of the most recent 22 months, and as such it was only necessary to determine whether the termination of the father’s’ parental rights were in the best interests of the child. The Court of Appeals then concluded that the termination of the father’s rights was in the best interests of the children because the father refused to cooperate with a variety of services offered by DHHS, was uncooperative with mental health professionals, he had placed his own interests above those of the children, the children displayed problematic behaviors when therapeutic visitation did occur, the children needed permanency, and the father was unwilling to rehabilitate himself within a reasonable time. The Court of Appeals also noted that the father’s choice to appeal, “every directive” of the juvenile court’s dispositional order, rather than complying with the order in good faith, indicated an “unreasonable attitude towards any effort being made to reunite him with his children.” Read the full opinion.

LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS

NEBRASKA INTERIM STUDIES

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

  • Last action – Hearing in Health and Human Services Committee on October 13, 2016

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 – Hearing in Health and Human Services Committee on October 19, 2016

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 – Notice of hearing in Health and Human Services Committee for November 15, 2016

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 – Hearing in Health and Human Services Committee on October 13, 2016

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.

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.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Appleseed Blog

Appleseed maintains a blog where you can read daily updates about our work to positively impact low-income families, immigrants, children in foster care, and access to health care.  Stop by and check it out!  Read, comment, and share your own stories with us at: http://www.neappleseed.org/blog

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