Lawmakers amended and advanced a bill March 15 that would strengthen reporting requirements regarding children in the state’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Currently, all cases of death or serious injury of a child in a foster home, private agency, child care facility or other program licensed by the state Department of Health and Human Services must be reported to, and investigated by, the office of the inspector general of Nebraska child welfare.
LB1078, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, would add to that requirement all allegations of sexual abuse of a state ward or a juvenile on probation, in a detention facility or residential child-caring agency.
The bill would require that the annual report of the DHHS Division of Children and Family Services include the number of sexual abuse allegations that occurred among children being served by the division and those placed at a residential child-caring agency.
Also required would be the number of corresponding screening decision occurrences by category, open investigations by category and agency substantiations, court substantiations and court-pending status cases.
Two amendments regarding other reporting requirements for the state’s child welfare system were adopted during select file debate.
Crawford offered an amendment, adopted 31-0, to add provisions of her LB1073. The amendment would require DHHS to include in their existing weekly report to the Foster Care Review Office whether relative and kinship placements are licensed or received a waiver.
“It’s critical that the state know how many of these homes are not meeting this licensing requirement,” Crawford said.
An amendment also was offered by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz to add provisions of her LB411, which was introduced last session. She said the proposal would ensure that reasonable efforts are made to place children in state care with their siblings.
“The amendment addresses a concern that was raised by the [department] regarding appeal,” Bolz said. “We’ve removed any appeal language so as not to delay any permanency for any child in the child welfare system, while also retaining the rights of siblings and promoting sibling placement.”
The amendment would require that DHHS file a written sibling placement report with the court within 30 days of a juvenile being placed in state care and at specified intervals while he or she remains in state care. It also would clarify that a sibling can be in the group of parties to a case who may file a motion for joint-sibling placement, visitation or ongoing interaction between the siblings.
The sibling report would include:
• the reasonable efforts of the department to locate the child’s siblings;
• if a joint-sibling placement is made, whether such placement continues to be consistent with the safety and well-being of the children;
• if joint-sibling placement is not possible, the reasons why a joint-sibling placement is and continues to be contrary to the safety or well-being of any of the siblings;
• the department’s continuing reasonable efforts to place a child with a sibling in the same foster care or adoptive placement; and
• the department’s continuing reasonable efforts to facilitate sibling visitation.
The amendment also would require that DHHS file a notice of placement with all of a child’s known siblings. A parent or sibling could choose to opt-out of receiving such notifications.
DHHS would be required to make reasonable efforts to place siblings together even if there is no preexisting relationship between them. It would be left to the court to determine what constitutes such reasonable efforts.
Following adoption of the Bolz amendment 32-0, the bill was advanced to final reading by voice vote.