Two Important Child Welfare Bills Need Our Support

Last month, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard testimony on two important child welfare bills that Nebraska Appleseed strongly supports.

LB 971, introduced by Sen. Kathy Campbell, would implement several key provisions of the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 into Nebraska statute.

Specifically, the bill requires the state to place siblings together or to provide for ongoing interaction among siblings in foster care unless doing so would be contrary to safety or well being of the siblings. Maintaining sibling connections for children in foster care has many benefits, including the fact that siblings placed together tend to have an enhanced sense of security and connection.

LB 971 also provides for notice to adult relatives within 15 days of the child being removed from the home. Maintaining these extended family connections is critical to the well being of children. While relative placement is not indicated in certain circumstances, generally speaking placing children with relatives has a number of advantages, including that relative placements tend to be more stable and provide important cultural and familial connections for children.

Finally, the bill requires the state to develop a transition plan when a child placed in foster care turns 16 or enters foster care and is at least 16. Among other things, LB 971 differs from existing state and federal law and policy in that it provides for court oversight and guidance of these provisions. Good transition planning for older youth who “age out” of foster care is critical to providing kids with the best opportunity to beat the otherwise daunting odds they face.

Nebraska Appleseed also strongly supports LB 973, introduced by Sen. Colby Coash, which would provide for a hearing for individuals prior to being placed on the central register under the “agency substantiated” category when requested within ten days. The agency substantiated category means that a caseworker has determined that by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that child abuse occurred. These are cases where there is not enough evidence to file a court case and the determination is based on caseworker discretion.

According to data from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the largest percentage of cases is put on the central register in the “agency substantiated” category. In addition, according to the Department’s own statistics, 74% of expungement requests were granted in 2008 and 68% in 2007. Currently, if individuals believe that their name has been placed on the central register incorrectly, they can request that their name be removed (or “expunged”) from the central register.

This bill would seek to address some of these concerns and would provide due process for the most commonly utilized central register category and the category for which the fewest protections currently exist. It’s important to remember that being placed on the registry can, for instance, affect a parent’s ability to get a job and better their family situation, which makes reunification harder in some cases.

The Lincoln Journal-Star strongly supported passage of LB 973 in a February 24th editorial. It correctly argued, “People ought to have a chance to defend themselves before their reputations and livelihoods are damaged” by having their names are placed on Nebraska’s child abuse and neglect registry. The Journal-Star pointed out that in contrast to the list of registered sex offenders, a person does not have to be convicted of a crime before their name is placed on the abuse and neglect registry. Instead, a name can be placed on the list merely through a determination by a DHHS caseworker that there is enough evidence to do so.

LB 973 puts important protections in place to ensure that the central register process both protects the safety of children and the due process rights of individuals placed on the central register.

We thank Senator Coash and Senator Campbell for their commitment to these issues and we hope the Judiciary Committee will advance these bills. Please contact members of the Judiciary Committee to express your support!

Click here for Appleseed’s testimony on LB 971 and click here for Appleseed’s testimony on LB 973.

Click here for press on the LB 971 hearing and click here for press on the LB 973 hearing.

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