Bill seeks to ease foster care transition

Youth who age out of the state’s foster care system would receive additional records and documents under a bill  considered by the Judiciary Committee Jan. 24.

Sen. Jana Hughes

Currently, the state Department of Health and Human Services is required to develop a transition plan for state wards age 16 and older and provide certain documents. LB945, introduced by Seward Sen. Jana Hughes, outlines additional materials to be provided, including:
• Foster Care Review Office reports;
• all case numbers and court records;
• available photographs of the child;
• a written explanation of the reason the child is leaving foster care;
• a document that describes the child’s rights concerning education, health, visitation and court participation; and
• a copy of the child’s medical records, including but not limited to, documents related to psychological care or evaluations and a list of health care and mental health care providers the child saw while in care.

Hughes said that visiting with those who assist youth aging out of the foster care system led her to better understand how providing information is vital to helping those youth understand their past. It’s also a workforce concern, she said, because young adults who are missing information about themselves may have trouble obtaining employment.

“We have a workforce issue here in Nebraska that is not going to fix itself,” Hughes said. “We need to remove barriers so that people can get employed.”

The bill also would allow a state ward or their guardian ad litem to request additional case information through the courts before leaving foster care, which would be granted if deemed to be in the child’s best interest. 

If a party objects to a document request, the court could allow a partial redaction or other measures to address privacy concerns, including waiving privacy rights. If the request is approved, the court would identify the confidential information the child may receive. DHHS would have 30 days to provide such information. 

Sarah Helvey of Nebraska Appleseed testified in support of the bill. Current state and federal laws require DHHS to provide youth aging out of foster care with certain documents already, she said, but some are not receiving all of the necessary information. LB945 would clarify which documents youth are required to receive, Helvey said. 

Jerry Milner, a former associate commissioner with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also supported the bill. He said young people without vital documents and information likely will encounter barriers to housing, education, employment and health care. 

“As long as we are going to allow young people to exit foster care to be on their own, we need to do every single thing we can to prepare them and equip them for life after foster care,” Milner said. 

Bethany Bradley, who said she spent nearly two years in foster care before being adopted, also testified in favor of LB945. 

Bradley said that while her adoptive parents have her vital records, she doesn’t know much about her childhood or what relationships with her biological family were like. More information would help her and other foster youth understand their histories, she said.

“Giving us access to all of our information can help us prepare for our future because we understand our past,” Bradley said.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it. 

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