Nebraska Supreme Court Declines Opportunity to Strengthen Rights of Siblings in Foster Care

NE Supreme CourtOn Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a decision that, unfortunately, limits who can raise the issue of a child’s right to grow up with their siblings when a child has been removed from their home due to abuse or neglect. The decision, which dismissed an appeal of siblings challenging a juvenile court’s denial of a motion to change placement, diminishes the ability of all children to maintain connections with their extended family.

Nebraska Appleseed filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in this case because it raised an issue of first impression regarding the application of the federal Fostering Connections Act and the rights of siblings in Nebraska.  Appleseed argued that the Constitution and the federal Fostering Connections Act as well as state policy requires the state to prioritize the placement of children with their siblings and to start with a presumption that siblings should be placed together unless the state shows that doing so would be contrary to the safety or well-being of the siblings.

However, in an analysis of the siblings’ standing to appeal the juvenile court’s denial of their motion to change placement, the Supreme Court determined the Fostering Connections Act does not give siblings that are not the subject of the juvenile court proceeding the ability to argue in court that all the siblings should be placed together.  This suggests that the child’s guardian ad litem attorney must raise the issue of sibling placement when appropriate within the context of the child’s best interest.  The Supreme Court also declined to recognize a constitutional right of siblings to a relationship with one another following the termination or relinquishment of parental rights.

Nebraska Appleseed is disappointed with this decision, which we believe represents a missed opportunity to strengthen the rights of siblings in Nebraska.

Also last week, however, Governor Heineman signed LB 177 into law.  Among other things, LB 177 places the sibling placement provision of the Fostering Connections Act into Nebraska statute and clarifies that this provision applies to a broad range of siblings, including those who have not resided together prior to placement in foster care.  We are hopeful that LB 177 will improve future practice on the front-end by clarifying that the state is required to make reasonable efforts to insure that all siblings have an opportunity to be placed with one another or to have other ongoing interaction with one another unless the state documents that doing so would be contrary to their safety or well-being.

Click here to read the Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision

Click here to read Appleseed’s statement

Click here to read Appleseed’s amicus brief

Press Coverage of the decision: Lincoln Journal StarOmaha World Herald/AP

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