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Emerging Adults: Education

The 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report includes an in-depth look at the first steps young people take along their transition away from childhood – emerging adulthood. This is a time of profound growth and development coupled with frequent life changes. The decisions made during these years lead to lifelong decisions impacted the next generation of Nebraska’s workforce and families. Our series investigating our commentary thus far has introduced some of the characteristics of emerging adults and provided an overview of this population in Nebraska as well as a look at the health of these young Nebraskans. Today we will take a look at emerging adults and education.


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In Case You Missed It: February 6-10

The legislative session is in full swing and we had a busy week, testifying in committee hearings on eight bills. In case you missed anything, a summary of our week at the Nebraska Capitol is below.

Child Welfare

We submitted a letter of support for LB 107, which would close a gap in Nebraska’s statutory rape law and protect all of Nebraska’s children when they are in vulnerable positions.

Policy Associate Julia Tse testified Wednesday in support of LB 108, a bill to create the foundation for child-focused policy and practice when a parent is arrested and incarcerated. LB 108 would encourage necessary stable and loving relationships between children and their parents/guardians.

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on LB 456, a bill to strengthen the rights of parents with disabilities. We support this bill because children do best when they are part of a supportive and loving family and this bill reaffirms that the focal concern of our state remains with child well-being and safety.

Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers testified Tuesday in opposition to LB 595, a bill that would allow teachers to use physical force or restraint against students. We oppose LB 595 because it is at odds with best practices for improving classroom culture and keeping students engaged, and is likely to disproportionately affect students with disabilities and students of color.

Economic Stability

We submitted a letter of support for LB 260, a bill to increase healthy food access across Nebraska. Food insecurity is detrimental to a child’s health, behavioral functioning, and academic performance. We support LB 260 as a measure that would work to provide proper nutrition to more of Nebraska’s children.

On Monday, Policy Coordinator Kaitlin Reece testified in support of LB 305, a bill to extend paid family leave in Nebraska, stating: “A paid family leave program would level the playing field, provide a way to retain and attract workers, and provide a systemic solution to the current patchwork system that isn’t working for families or businesses.”

She also provided testimony in support of LB 372. This bill would support workers who are experiencing a high amount of family/work conflict and protect them from discrimination.

Proposed income tax cuts will leave Nebraskans in the future less able to respond to community needs. Policy Coordinator Kaitlin Reece provided testimony in opposition to LB 337 because we are concerned about the effects tax cuts will have on children, families, and education.


Take a look at our 2017 State Policy Agenda for the full list of our priority legislation.


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Emerging Adults: Health

The 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report includes an in-depth look at the first steps young people take along their transition away from childhood – emerging adulthood. This is a time of profound growth and development coupled with frequent life changes. The decisions made during these years lead to lifelong decisions impacted the next generation of Nebraska’s workforce and families. Our first post in this series investigating our commentary introduced some of the characteristics of emerging adults and provided an overview of this population in Nebraska. Today, we look at the health of these young Nebraskans with some data highlights in risk behaviors, health insurance, and mental health.

Of great interest in this data in the dramatic decrease in uninsured emerging adults in Nebraska. In 2009, nearly one-third of emerging adults ages 19-25 were uninsured. With the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”), insurance coverage has been expanded to these young people due to provisions allowing them to remain on their parent’s health insurance plan until age 26 or to purchase insurance directly through the Health Care Marketplace. Typically, working-age Americans get their health care coverage through an employer, meaning for many emerging adults who are in school full-time or are working in a job where health insurance is not offered, it was difficult to obtain affordable coverage. The ACA created health insurance options for emerging adults who were not previously eligible for coverage and allowed emerging adults greater flexibility to explore different career and educational paths without being tied to a job for the sake of health insurance. With the enactment of dependent coverage, the uninsured rate among 18-24-year-olds in Nebraska dropped by more than 50% from 2009 to 2015 from 25.5% uninsured to 12.4%, helping to lead the nation toward our lowest uninsured rate in recorded history. The increases in access to coverage have led to increased access to health care for young people, and has improved their health and financial security which may potentially generate long-term economic benefits.

Stay tuned over the next several weeks as we continue to share data and recommendations on Nebraska’s Emerging Adults from our 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report.

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Emerging Adults – Characteristics and Population

Image Source: Catherine Giordano, HubPages

The 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report includes an in-depth look at the first steps young people take along their transition away from childhood – emerging adulthood. This is a time of profound growth and development coupled with frequent life changes. The decisions made during these years lead to lifelong decisions impacted the next generation of Nebraska’s workforce and families.

For years, youth was thought to end around age 18 or upon graduation from high school and the beginnings of careers or higher education. These years from late teens to early twenties are spent building the foundation for future wealth, occupational training, and achievements that impact the remainder of adulthood. While legally adults at age 19 in Nebraska, this time period is one of profound change and development. Exploration of love, work, and world views shift and change over the course of this stage. In the past half century, the age of marriage and childbearing has steadily increased, allowing for the immediate years following high school to be a time of change and exploration of life paths. It is no longer expected for those in their late teens and early twenties to have already settled in to long-term, adult roles. Because of these changes in expectations, some have determined the late teens and early twenties to be a distinct developmental age known as “Emerging Adulthood.”

Emerging adults, especially those 18-24 years old, are at a unique point in their life characterized by relative independence from social roles and normative expectations. This age, more than any other point throughout the course of life, allows for independent exploration of life’s possibilities with few outside responsibilities. There are few requirements for these young people, thereby making demographic status unpredictable and volatile. These years of development are characterized by instability, frequent transitions, and increased access to other emerging adults who are demographically different. Demographic transitions and fluctuations make it difficult to categorize emerging adults as adults. In fact, most young people at this age do not consider themselves to be adults, but rather as being in a period between adolescence and adulthood. The top criteria most young people use to consider themselves as adults are characterized by self-sufficiency and include accepting responsibility for one’s self, making independent decisions, and reaching financial independence. Emerging adulthood is a period when self-sufficiency has not yet been reached and many are often still reliant on parents and other family members for assistance – whether financially or for guidance. Identity exploration and formation and character traits continue to develop. It is only after these qualities are established and self-sufficiency is reached, that many make the transition from emerging adulthood to being a young adult, typically in the mid- to late-twenties.

Characteristics of emerging adults:

  1. The age of instability: Emerging adults often encounter complications on their path to independence and are therefore forced to revise their plans often changing educational plans, partners, jobs, or residences.
  2. The age of identity exploration: Emerging adults are trying out different possibilities in an attempt to figure out who they are and who they’d like to become before making the transition to stable, long-lasting commitments.
  3. The self-focused age: Emerging adults tend to delay significant adult responsibilities in an effort to exercise freedom and independence.
  4. The age of feeling in between: Emerging adults tend to feel that they have not yet met the criteria of adulthood, but have advanced beyond adolescence.
  5. The age of possibilities: Emerging adults often have a very optimistic view of their future and believe they will accomplish their dreams while overcoming past obstacles to opportunity.

The following data provides a glimpse of the population of Nebraska’s emerging adults. Over the next several weeks we will explore the data related to this age group and make recommendations to ensure that all Nebraska’s young people are set up for lifetime success and opportunity.

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Voices for Children Testimony on LB 158

Voices for Children policy coordinator Juliet Summers testified in support of LB 158, a bill to change provisions relating to appointment of counsel to juveniles. Read her full testimony below or go here for a printable version of Voices for Children’s testimony on LB 158.


To: Chairwoman Ebke and Members of the Judiciary Committee

From: Juliet Summers, Policy Coordinator

Re: LB 158, a bill regarding the right to counsel in juvenile court

Every child in Nebraska deserves equal protection under the law.  Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 158, because it will ensure youth across our entire state have meaningful access to one of the great protections of the American justice system: the Constitutional right to counsel. This protection is especially important for children, who may by their age fail to fully understand the grave nature of their actions, the complicated legal proceedings against them, and the potentially life-altering outcomes.

Why do lawyers matter in juvenile court? Juvenile court may sometimes be perceived as “kiddie court” or diversionary in nature, but in fact, in every single case, juvenile court judges have a wider range of options available to them than criminal court judges. Though this means a lower reliance on the traditionally punitive response of incarceration, it also means that a charge as “small” as minor in possession can, in the juvenile court, open the door to confinement, removal from the family home to a group home program, being placed on probation for an indefinite number of years, or even commitment to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers.  In that regard, there is no “small” charge in the juvenile court.

Furthermore, after the trial phase, juvenile courts are relatively unbound by the rules of evidence and have wide latitude to make decisions on treatment, placement, and even incarceration on hearsay evidence.  A psychiatrist can make a written recommendation for psychotropic medication or for the youth to be placed in inpatient care and the court may order it.  A probation officer may tell the judge that the youth needs to be picked up by sheriffs and confined in a jail-like detention facility until further notice for safety, without a sentence setting a determinate length of that incarceration.

Both of those examples are permissible if the court finds they are in the best interests of that youth … but would you want to face such a proceeding without a lawyer to assist you and protect your rights?  Would you allow your own child to do so?

What does the data show? Unfortunately, the data makes clear that youth across our state are not getting access to this important constitutional protection at equal rates. The map I have provided to you breaks down the rate of juvenile access to counsel by county.[1] Because each and every juvenile court case exposes a youth to the risk of incarceration, the youth in every case is already entitled by the U.S. Constitution to an appointed attorney and the judge has to ask when he or she wants one. However, how and when the judge asks that question, and whether the right is adequately explained to the youth or pressure applied not to take it, can all affect the rate at which children actually take up this right.  As you can see from the map, this is not an urban versus rural issue. Counties right next door to each other – perhaps, the counties within your own legislative district – can vary as much as 100%.  LB 158 would ensure that every youth coming to juvenile court receives the constitutional protection to which she is entitled, regardless of where she happens to be charged.

What about the cost? Last year, there was debate on the floor about the potential costs to counties posed by LB 894. We recognize that this is a special concern this year. Lawyers do cost money, and it is a special and remarkable feature of the American Constitution that we have chosen as a society to bear that cost in order to protect our citizens from possible government overreach.

However, lawyers also have the potential to save money, by reducing expenses the county, state, and even family are already paying. When a defense attorney is able to consult immediately with her client and the county attorney and arranges a plea agreement for the first court appearance, the county and state are saved the expense of bringing judge, county attorney, bailiff and court reporter back for a second or even third hearing. The parents are saved the expense of missing work for a second hearing. If the judge detains the youth pending trial, the county bears the cost of that confinement at staggering expense. I attached an infographic comparing the cost of an average hourly appointment rate for lawyers in Nebraska with the cost of detention; if the lawyer can get the youth’s case moved even one day faster, the county saves $45.  If the lawyer gets the case in just one week sooner, the county saves $1,407.[2]

Every teenager facing a proceeding in which the government can take their liberty, remove them from home and family, put them on medication, or commit them to a psychiatric institution, boot camp, or YRTC  should have a lawyer to ensure their rights are protected and they understand what is happening and why.  LB 158 would close a gap in the way our state protects youth, and I urge you to support it. Voices for Children in Nebraska would like to thank Senator Pansing Brooks for bringing this important legislation, and the Committee for your time and consideration.

[1] This is 2015 data taken from the Administrative Office of the Courts Annual Statistical Report, published in February 2016.  At this time, data updated for 2016 is not yet available.

[2] This calculation is based on the average per diem cost of detention in 2015, according to data from Nebraska’s five detention facilities. To get the average cost of an attorney, we made an informal survey of attorneys taking court appointments, and received responses from 28 different Nebraska counties, both urban and rural.

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Voices for Children Testimony on LB 334

Voices for Children Policy Associate Julia Tse testified in opposition to LB 334, a bill to change Department of Health and Human Services provisions relating to families and eliminate a Family Finding pilot project. Read her full testimony below.

For a printable version of our testimony, click here.

To: Members of the Health and Human Services Committee
From: Julia Tse, Policy Associate
RE: Opposition to LB 334, to eliminate a Family Finding pilot project


All children need loving and permanent relationships with adults that they can learn from and trust, especially abused and neglected children that are in the state’s care. Voices for Children in Nebraska opposes LB 334, which terminates contracts for a Family Finding pilot project.

The Family Finding model is a promising practice that has been employed across the country to find a lifetime network of support for children in foster care who lack legal and emotional permanency. The model is an intensive approach that seeks to create lifetime connections for disconnected youth by finding and engaging family members and other supportive adults. Although this may include finding physical, legal permanence through adoption or guardianship, the program also seeks to create a broader sense of permanent belonging that so many of our children in care are lacking, by surrounding them with involved and supportive adults.

We all know that children do best in a stable family that can support them for a lifetime, and foster care is intended to be temporary for this reason. Unfortunately, many children in the care of our state remain without a forever home for far too long, and many never find a permanent place to call home before they turn 19. In 2015, the median length of stay in care was 17 months, and in one case, a child remained in care for 161 months—over 13 years. Of the youth who exited from care last year, just over 6%, or 105 young people, “aged out” of the system without a family to go home to.[1]

The progress that our state foster care system has seen in recent years, thanks to the hard work of this Legislature, has a real and life-changing effect on Nebraska’s most vulnerable children. The data show that there is always more that we can do as a state, and we believe that eliminating this important investment in finding families for children who are languishing in state care takes us a step backward.

We are especially concerned that the executive budget recommendations that accompany LB 334 show that service delivery of Family Finding will shift from contracted agencies to department staff. Last fall, Voices for Children provided testimony on LR 513 in this committee, which examined workforce issues in our child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The latest annual report issued by the Office of the Inspector General of Child Welfare found that caseloads are substantially out of compliance with state law, and were directly contributing to negative outcomes for children, including 2 deaths and 9 serious injuries of system-involved children.[2] We are troubled to see that Family Finding and a number of other important child welfare services will be cut and absorbed by department staff when current caseloads put child safety at risk. Family Finding, like other interventions intended to improve the safety, permanency, and well-being of children in foster care, requires specialized training and adequate resources to implement with fidelity, which we believe to be difficult to achieve without proper investments.

We thank Senator Riepe for his commitment to children in our state and the Committee for their time and consideration. We respectfully urge the committee to indefinitely postpone LB 334. Thank you.


[1] Data obtained from the Department of Health and Human Services.

[2] Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare, Annual Report 2015-2016, http://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/104/PDF/Agencies/Inspector_General_of_Nebraska_Child_Welfare/285_20 160914-113017.pdf.


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Voices for Children Testimony on LB 235

Voices for Children Policy Coordinator Kaitlin Reece testified today in support of LB 235, a bill to clarify grant requirements for the Summer Food Service Program. Read her full testimony below.

For a printable version of our testimony, click here.


To: Members of the Education Committee

From: Kaitlin Reece, Policy Coordinator for Economic Stability and Health

RE: LB 235-clarify grant requirements for the Summer Food Service Program


Although it is only January, many of Nebraska students are likely already looking forward to summer break.  For many children in families struggling to make ends meet, however, summer is a time of uncertainty and dread.  Access to regular meals at school either through free or reduced-price school breakfasts or lunches can end abruptly.   The Summer Foods Service Program helps ensure that millions of children living in low-income areas across the country do not go hungry when the school year ends.

Nebraska continues to lag in its participation in summer nutrition programs: there are only 8.5 summer nutrition participants for every 100 participants in the free or reduced-price school meals program.  Not surprisingly then, Nebraska ranked 46th in our level of participation in the Summer Foods Service Program in 2016.[1]   This poor ranking has real consequences for Nebraska’s families: 1 in 7 Nebraska families don’t know where their next meal is coming from.[2]

In 2012, the Nebraska Legislature created a summer nutrition grant program to respond to child hunger in summer months.  The grant program, operated through the Nebraska Department of Education, provides one-time grants to schools, governmental entities such as local health departments, and nonprofits who are seeking to start or expand their summer nutrition program.   The grant program has had some major successes, such as the Food Bank for the Heartland’s mobile canteen whose innovative approach to bring meals to children in their own neighborhood.  However, the program has not reached its full potential due to the current requirement for prorated expenses.  Currently, a would-be sponsor must come up with ¾ of the cost of equipment such as a refrigerator from other sources.  For many nonprofits and government agencies interested in feeding hungry kids in the summer, this just isn’t possible and programs never get off the ground.

LB 235 represents a simple, common sense solution to address artificial barriers and red tape that currently prevent many of Nebraska’s hungry children from accessing nutritious meals during summer months and allows the program created in 2012 to work as intended.

Childhood hunger has a serious and long lasting impact on children’s development and academic performance and has been linked to a variety of adverse outcomes from physiological to behavioral.  Although consistent access to food is related to poverty, research tells us that the two operate independently.  Children in households that are both low-income and food-insecure demonstrate poor outcomes at significantly higher rates than low-income children who did not experience hunger.[3]

Most concerning, particularly in light of our state’s investments in juvenile justice reform over the past few years, research regarding food insecurity in older children demonstrates young adults experiencing hunger often cope by making choices that offer short-term survival but are self-sabotaging in the long-term.  These include failing classes to qualify for summer school (and therefore summer meals), stealing, and engaging in survival sex.  As one young girl stated, “a lot of people are choosing to be in jail rather than be on the street.”[4]

Increased access to summer nutrition programming means fewer kids go hungry while also bringing additional dollars and economic opportunities to Nebraska communities across the state.  Estimates show that if summer nutrition programs reached just 40% of free and reduced-lunch participation during the school year, local communities would see an infusion of resources totaling over $2.8 million in federal reimbursements.[5]

Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 235 because of its potential to increase access to nutritious meals for Nebraska’s children by allowing more sponsors or would-be sponsors to apply for the funds to start or expand summer food programs.   We see LB 235 as an important part of addressing childhood hunger in Nebraska, particularly when the school year—and school meals—end.




[1] Food Research and Action Center.  “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report.”  June 2016.  Available online:  http://www.frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2016_summer_nutrition_report.pdf

[2] Kids Count 2016. Available online at: http://kidscountnebraska.com/juvenile-justice/

[3] Ronald E. Kleinman, et al., “Hunger in Children in the United States: Potential Behavioral and Emotional Correlates,” Pediatrics 101, no. 1 (1998), 4-5.

[4] Susan J. Popkin, Molly M. Scott, and Martha Galvez, “Impossible Choices: Teens and Food Insecurity in America,” Urban Institute and Feeding America, September 2016, http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/2000914-Impossible-Choices-Teens-and-Food-Insecurity-in-America.pdf, 21.

[5] Voices for Children in Nebraska.  “Food for Thought: School Nutrition for Student Performance.”  2016 Issue Brief.

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Support for LB 6 and LB 207

Voices for Children sent a letter of support to the Executive Board regarding LB 6 and LB 207, both concerning the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare. LB 6 would provide for release of a summarized report by the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare. LB 207 would change provisions relating to powers and duties of the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare.

You can read our entire letter of support below.

For a printable version of our letter of support, click here.


To: Chairman Watermeier and the Executive Board

From: Juliet Summers, Policy Coordinator for Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

RE: LB 6—Provide for release of a summarized report by the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare and LB 207—Change provisions relating to powers and duties of the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare

All children deserve the best opportunities to become healthy and productive adults, and we must ensure that our state child protective system is working to enhance, rather than undercut, those opportunities. To that end, Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 6 and LB 207, both of which would allow the Office of the Inspector General of Child Welfare to continue to protect vulnerable children and improve our system response for all youth in our state’s care.

The OIG collects vital information on child well-being and must be able to use this information to identify and correct systemic and structural issues. If the OIG is not permitted to release important findings more than once a year in an Annual Report, some issues of concern may not be highlighted and important concerns may not be addressed in a timely manner. LB 6 would allow the Inspector General to address critical issues as they arise, and the public to become aware of proposed solutions sooner, better protecting Nebraska’s children.

An office that investigates when things have gone wrong, but keeps those investigations confidential and uses its power only to make recommendations to improve system response is a special tool. With this in mind, LB 207 would expand the OIG’s power to make recommendations by ensuring that the OIG receives more complete information.

The Office of the Inspector General of Child Welfare serves an important and independent role in ensuring that all children involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems in our state are kept safe and given the proper supports and services that they need to succeed. Voices for Children supports these bills in the understanding that they will further the important work of the Inspector General.

We thank Senator Krist for his ongoing support for the Office of Inspector General of Child Welfare and this Committee for your time and consideration.



Juliet Summers

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Voices for Children testimony on LB 11

Today, Voices for Children Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers testified on LB 11, a bill to change provisions related to transfer of juvenile cases.


You can read our entire LB 11 testimony below.

For a printable version of our testimony, click here.


To: Members of the Judiciary Committee

From: Juliet Summers, Policy Coordinator for Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

Re: LB 11 – Change provisions related to transfer of juvenile cases

Our state policies should ensure that youth caught up in the justice system are given the best opportunity to turn their lives around and become productive adults. In recent years, Nebraska has been a forerunner of national juvenile justice reform, and we are starting to see the positive results of policies based on research into what works.  Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 11, because it clarifies previous legislative intent on one such reform and will ensure youth are afforded a meaningful opportunity at rehabilitation in the juvenile courts.

In 2014, the Legislature passed LB 464 into law, requiring that nearly all cases in which minors age 17 and younger are charged begin in juvenile, rather than adult criminal court.  This bill was based on years of research showing that charging minors as adults does not reduce violence or other antisocial behavior, but is more likely to encourage it.  Exposing minors to criminal charges and incarceration leads to increased recidivism, increased risk of prison rape, suicide, and other dangers, and infringes on parental rights and responsibilities to hold youth accountable and support their development into law-abiding citizens.[1] Transcripts of legislative debate from 2013 to 2014 show a widespread commitment by senators to ensuring most teenage offenders have access to the juvenile court in order to maximize youth rehabilitation.  County attorneys still have the discretion to file the highest-grade, dangerous felonies in criminal court. They may also file a motion requesting a judge to transfer a case out of the juvenile court and into the criminal court.

The data show that this approach is working.  In 2014, there were 1,972 minors charged as adults in the county or district courts.  In 2015, that number dropped to 356.[2]  Over the same period, juvenile crime has not risen.  There are fewer youth today in our adult prison facilities, fewer being placed on juvenile probation, fewer confined in our juvenile detention centers, and fewer committed to our Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers.[3]  LB 464, and the 103rd Legislature’s commitment to responding thoughtfully to teenage crime, is paying off.

So why this bill?  Voices for Children supports LB 11, because it does not change anything substantively about Nebraska’s jurisdictional scheme that LB 464 set out, which is working so effectively.  Rather, it clarifies the timing at which an appeal can be taken, when a county attorney does file a motion to transfer a case out of juvenile court and into criminal court.

The Supreme Court recently held, interpreting LB 464, that when a juvenile court judge transfers a case to criminal court, the juvenile may not appeal that order until after the criminal process is complete.  This could be months or over a year later.  Suppose the minor is sixteen and a half when the case is transferred.  He goes through trial and sentencing before the county or district court judge, a process which takes several months.  He is now a couple months over seventeen, and files his appellate paperwork questioning the decision of the juvenile court judge to transfer his case.  An appeal in Nebraska also takes several months from the start of filing to the return of a decision. If the Court of Appeals holds that his case was improperly transferred – that the juvenile court judge erred – he has lost nearly a year and a half, time which could have been spent receiving therapeutic and supervisory services through juvenile probation. He is now eighteen or a little older, with less than a year left before he ages out of juvenile court jurisdiction: very little time to accomplish rehabilitative goals.

LB 11 would permit him to appeal the transfer decision immediately, and to continue to receive temporary rehabilitative orders from the juvenile court while the case is pending appeal.  Those same months waiting for the decision on appeal would not be lost; instead, they could be spent receiving substance abuse treatment, making restitution to a victim or in the community, working through family issues, and pursuing education.

Thank you to Senator Krist for his commitment to getting our system right for youth, families, and communities, and to this Committee for your time and thoughtful consideration.


[1] Centers for Disease Control: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.  Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile to the Adult Justice System. Vol. 56: No. RR-9, Nov. 30, 2007.  Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr5609.pdf

[2] Kids Count 2016. Available online at: http://kidscountnebraska.com/juvenile-justice/

[3] Id.

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Voices for Children Testimony on LB 8

Today, Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers testified on LB 8, legislation that would provide for graduated response incentives and sanctions relating to juvenile probation.

You can read our entire LB 8 testimony below.

For a printable version of our testimony, click here.


To: Members of the Judiciary Committee

From: Juliet Summers, Policy Coordinator for Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

Re: LB 8 – Provide for graduated response incentives and sanctions relating to juvenile probation

We all benefit when youth are held accountable for their actions in developmentally appropriate ways that promote community safety and allow them to grow into responsible citizens.  In recent years, Nebraska has begun the process of reforming our juvenile justice system to produce better outcomes for youth, families, and communities.  Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 8 as an important next step in this process, tailoring our juvenile administrative sanctions statute to better respond to the unique rehabilitative needs that youth on probation present.

Teachers have long understood that to maximize learning outcomes and compliance in the classroom, youth respond best when they perceive sanctions as fair, and when teachers utilize a ratio of at least four positive incentives and interactions to one negative punishment or sanction.[1]  When it comes to adolescent misbehavior, research shows what every parent of a teenager knows: the effectiveness of any punishment is more related to its timeliness and certainty than to its severity.[2]  LB 8 would apply these common sense principles to juvenile probation, by emphasizing the importance of positive reinforcement when youth are doing well on probation, and by increasing probation officers’ ability to swiftly and fairly respond to minor violations of the probation contract.

To be clear, we are not talking about youth who pick up new charges or engage in truly dangerous or new lawbreaking behavior while on probation. In such cases, the probation officer is still empowered to request the youth be detained and the county attorney file a motion to revoke the probation order.  LB 8 reflects a balanced approach between permitting flexibility for probation officers to respond to minor misbehaviors, and requiring judicial oversight and due process for youth accused of being in major violation of their court orders.  In fact, by empowering officers to respond in a swift, fair, transparent and certain way to minor misbehavior, adolescent development research suggests that this new structure will head off worse behaviors.

Perhaps most importantly, LB 8 also makes clear that incarceration in secure juvenile detention facilities is not an appropriate response to minor violations of probation that would otherwise not rise to the level risk or dangerousness our laws require to confine youth.  There’s a reason our Constitution and laws demand a showing of immediate risk of harm to self, community, or risk of flight before a youth can be incarcerated; besides being a violation of individual liberty, the incarceration of low risk juvenile offenders is an extremely costly and ineffective response.[3] Youth who continue to act out in minor ways once placed on probation may frustrate us, but the way our system responds should always be calculated to best change that behavior for the better rather than for the worse.  The number of youth confined in our juvenile detention facilities has fallen in recent years from 3,930 in 2011 to 2,597 in 2015 — without a corresponding rise in juvenile crime.[4]  LB 8 is the right next step to keeping more kids out of jail who don’t belong there.

Thank you to Senator Krist for being a champion on behalf of Nebraska’s youth, and to this Committee for your time and consideration.  I’d be happy to answer any questions.


[1] Conroy, M. A., Sutherland, K. S., Snyder, A., Al-Hendawi, M. & Vo, A.  (2009). Creating a positive classroom atmosphere:  Teachers’ use of effective praise and feedback.  Beyond Behavior, 18(2), pp. 18-26.

[2] American Probation & Parole Association, National Center for State Courts, Pew Charitable Trust. Effective Responses to Offender Behavior: Lessons Learned for Probation and Parole Supervision.  Available online at:  https://www.appa-net.org/eWeb/docs/APPA/pubs/EROBLLPPS-Report.pdf

[3] Pew. www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2015/04/reexamining-juvenile-incarceration

[4] KidsCount 2016.  Available online at: http://kidscountnebraska.com/juvenile-justice/

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