Alternative Response and Non-Court Cases Explained

Alternative ResponseIn 2010, Nebraska had the highest rate of children in out-of-home placements in the country. Yet, the majority of Nebraska’s reports of alleged child abuse or neglect are due to “physical neglect,” or poverty, rather than abuse, meaning these families need economic supports rather than removal.

  • Non-Court Involved cases are cases where a report of abuse or neglect has been reported and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has found that voluntary services and supports could be given instead of child removal and no formal charges have to be filed at that time.
  • Alternative Response (AR) began as a trial run program in 2014 and since then Nebraska has seen a drop in the number of formal Court Involved child welfare cases. Families that qualify for AR receive informal, voluntary case management and other services without a formal investigation or case filing. In 2021, due to the pilot being  a success, AR became a permanent alternative to traditional Court Involved cases

How is an AR, Non-Court, or Traditional case decided?

When DHHS receives a report it is assessed for the following:

  • Child Safety
  • Future risk of abuse or neglect
  • Family strengths and needs
  • What types of services are needed to support the family

Following the assessment, DHHS then classifies the report as one of the below:

  1. Traditional Response (TR)
  2. Alternative Response (AR)
  3. Screening by the Review, Evaluation, and Decide (RED) Team (RED)
  4. Needs no further action

What is the RED Team and what do they do?

The RED team stands for Review, Evaluate and Decide Team. This team reviews cases involving DV, use of alcohol or drugs that impairs the caregiver’s ability to care and provide safety for the child, or cases where the family member residing in the home or a caregiver has been part of a TR or AR case in the past 6 months. In those types of reports, the RED team comes together to decide if the report is accepted for AR or assigned to TR, or no further action. The team is made up of DHHS supervisors or administrators and two staff members who are well versed in the policies of DHHS.

My case is AR, what’s next?

  • In all Non-Court Involved cases, the Department must:
    • Inform parents that if the child is seriously endangered and removal is necessary, a formal case may be filed against them
    • Provide parents and caregivers written notice of their rights including the specific factual base for its involvement, the possibility of a formal case being filed against them, and that their participation in services could be relevant to a future case. This notice must comply with due process
  • When a case has been deemed eligible for AR, you should get a safety plan
  • You have access to services and supports and it is voluntary that you use them
  • Families participating in AR cannot be placed on the Central Child Abuse /Neglect Registry
  • You have a right to have your children returned to you even if you agreed to a temporary placement outside of your home
  • In cases where the child is living with a caregiver temporarily, the caregiver:
    • Has temporary parental authority regarding the child’s care, custody, and property (except to consent to marriage, adoption, or other limits placed by the parent)
    • Can be reimbursed by the Department for caring for the child
    • Must be notified by the Department if they are eligible for any public benefits, and receive help in applying for those benefits
    • Note: LB 1061 clarified that, when the child is living with a caregiver temporarily, the standard parent can have their child returned to their home at any time, unless the child would be “seriously endangered” and “removal is necessary.”
  • If you have more questions about your rights contact Appleseed’s intake number at: 1-800-845-3746

What type of report is NOT considered AR?

No report involving the following items will be assigned to AR and will be immediately forwarded to law enforcement or the county attorney:

  • Murder in the first or second degree
  • Sexual abuse
  • Trafficking including labor or sex trafficking
  • Neglect that results in hospitalization
  • Physical abuse that results in injury of a child
  • History of termination of parental rights
  • Household member illegally manufactures methamphetamine or opioids or a child has contact with methamphetamine or opioids

Note: this is a shortened list, the full list of ineligible reports can be found at: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/106/PDF/Final/LB1061.pdf

How is a Traditional Response case different?

With traditional cases, reports are made to DHHS and after assessment it is decided that there is need to take immediate action because there is direct harm or risk to the child physically or emotionally. DHHS may work with law enforcement to remove the child from the home and or refer the case to the county attorney to file charges.

What are my rights when formal charges of abuse or neglect are filed against me?

The following are some of your rights that you have when formal charges have been filed. You can find the full list of of your rights here: https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/files/2921/publications_parent_guide.pdf

  • You have a right to an attorney. One will be assigned to you if you are not able to afford one
  • You have the right to be notified of all court hearings and fully participate in them
  • You have a right to know what is in your court file and most of the reports that are given to the court
  • You have the right to see your child if they have been placed in care outside of your home, unless the judge determines that visitation is not in the best interest of your child
  • You have the right to receive a written case plan that should be signed by the parents within 60 of the child’s removal from your home

Where can I go for help?

You can see if you qualify for free legal help here:

  • Legal Aid of Nebraska (877-250-2016)
  • UNL Civil Clinic (402-472-3271)
  • The Creighton Legal Clinic (Douglas County Only 402-280-3068)

To find an attorney for hire visit: http://nefindalawyer.com

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