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Say What? A Mini Dictionary of the Juvenile Court, Part II

Two weeks ago, we brought you the first part of this series, a back to basics dictionary of common terms and abbreviations used in the juvenile court and child welfare system.  Part II today looks at common players, documents/evidence, and services that can be ordered.

People in the Room:

County Attorney: The prosecutor represents the state of Nebraska, files the charges, offers evidence, and is empowered to make recommendations to the court regarding possible orders.

Defense Attorney: The U.S. and Nebraska Constitutions protect individuals by requiring an attorney to represent the interests and desires of the person charged, either the parent in a 3(a) case or the child in a delinquency or status case.

GAL: The Guardian Ad Litem is appointed in a 3(a) case to be the voice of the child in the courtroom, tasked with representing both the child’s expressed interests and the attorney’s opinion of what is in the child’s best interests, and presenting reports and recommendations to the court thereon.  A GAL may also be appointed in a delinquency or status case, if it appears that there is a conflict between the child and legal guardian such that the court requires a separate assessment of the child’s best interests. Conversely, the court may also appoint a separate attorney for the child in a 3(a) case, if it appears that the dual role of the GAL creates a conflict between best and expressed interests.

PO: In a delinquency or status case, the court may place the child under the supervision of Juvenile Probation.  At all subsequent hearings, the Probation Officer must be present to offer a report and recommendations on the status of various court ordered services.

FPS: In a 3(a) case, the family will be assigned an ongoing caseworker, often called the Family Permanency Specialist, who manages any efforts the Department is required to make to preserve and reunify the family.

FSW: The court can order the family to work with a Family Support Worker, who can assist with identified goals such as seeking stable employment and transportation, obtaining secure housing, improving parenting skills.

Court Documents and Evidence:

Petition: The charging document filed by the county attorney that opens the case, laying out the basis for the juvenile court’s jurisdiction, and the nature and elements of the charges.

Affidavits or PRs: The county attorney must provide an evidentiary basis for filing their charges, usually in the form of a signed testimonial affidavit or a formal police report.  This is good enough for filing, but at trial, any witnesses will have to come testify in person.

PDI: The Pre-Disposition Investigation. A comprehensive report completed by a juvenile probation officer in a delinquency or status case, to inform the court about a juvenile’s particular circumstances and needs, and to make recommendations for treatment, placement, and oversight.

Case plan and court report: A report submitted to the court at most hearings in a 3(a) case, authored by the case manager, which outlines the designated permanency goals, describes the status of current court orders, and makes next step recommendations.

Evals: Courts may rely on multiple types of evaluations and assessments to determine what the child or family’s needs are.  These can include:

  • RAI: Risk Assessment Inventory, a calculator used by juvenile probation intake for the sole purpose of determining whether a child requires immediate secure detention (the RAI is not a mental health evaluation).
  • IDI or PTA: Initial Diagnostic Interview or Pre-Treatment Assessment, a short opening evaluation that may point up or rule out the need for further mental health assessment or treatment.
  • CDE: Chemical Dependency Evaluation, an in-depth look at an individual’s history of drug or alcohol use or abuse, completed by a licensed mental health practitioner, that makes a recommendation about what, if any, level of treatment is necessary.
  • Psychological: An evaluation completed by a licensed mental health practitioner that examines an individual’s personal history and current mental state, to identify any possible mental illness or disorder and make recommendations as to possible therapeutic interventions.
  • Psychiatric: An evaluation completed by a doctor of psychiatry to identify any mental illness or disorder and prescribe a recommended course of treatment, including both therapeutic and medicinal interventions.

 Common Orders and Services:

Placement:  Too often in Nebraska, children are placed outside of their homes. Possible placements, or “levels of care,” include:

  • Foster care: If a determination is made that a child cannot be safely maintained in the home on a 3(a) case, she may be placed in foster care.  Preference must be given to possible kinship placements, but if no family home is available or appropriate, children may also be placed in licensed agency foster homes.
  • Secure Detention: Never meant as a long-term placement, a child may be detained in a jail-like facility specifically for youth on an emergency basis when a court makes a finding in a delinquency case that the child presents a risk of harm to himself or the community.
  • Staff Secure Detention: Three detention facilities in Nebraska have created “staff secure” wings, where security is supposed to be provided by staff supervision alone and not hardware or construction, and where a child may be court-ordered on an emergency basis if he has status charges only and the court finds there is a risk of harm or flight for him to remain at home.
  • Shelter care: Some jurisdictions have emergency shelters available to house children for short-term stays, either as a necessary respite from home, or as they await evaluation recommendations or longer-term placement.
  • Group home: Nebraska judges are empowered to order children to reside in and complete programming at longer-term group home facilities, both in state and out of state, if they are not successful in following court orders at home, or have an identified treatment need that requires a higher level of accountability and structure than can be obtained in the home.
  • YRTC: Nebraska has two Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers, one for girls in Geneva and one for boys in Kearney.  This is the highest level of care available in a delinquency case; the child is placed in Office of Juvenile Services custody during her stay and must complete a set of treatment goals at the center before a reentry hearing is held for her to return on Intensive Supervised Probation to her community.

Visitation: In a 3(a) case, barring certain extreme circumstances, a parent has an absolute right to see his or her child.  If the child is not in the home, the court will order, and the Department must provide, some level of visitation.  This may begin with fully supervised visits by an agency.  It may transition to semi-supervised or unsupervised visits, adding in overnights, before the family progresses back to full reunification in the home.

Therapy or Drug Treatment: A court will often order therapy if recommended by the appropriate expert in an evaluation, either for drug treatment, maintenance of an identified mental health need, or both. There are different recommended levels of treatment:

  • OP: Outpatient treatment, typically involving weekly meetings with a treatment provider.
  • IOP: Intensive outpatient treatment, generally a minimum of nine hours per week in individual and group formats.
  • Residential: Can be either short term, usually around 30 days, or long term, a period of months.
  • PRTF: A Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility provides a high level of care for those with more intensive psychiatric needs.

Classes: Depending on the particulars of the case, the court may order a range of classes available from area providers, from parenting, domestic violence or women’s empowerment, to fire safety, anger management, decision-making or driver’s education classes.

Mediation: The court can also order mediation where the service is available.  Victim/offender mediation is possible when the victim has agreed and wishes to speak face to face with the perpetrator for resolution. Case progress mediation requires the parties to discuss where the case is going and what progress still needs to be made toward permanency.


The juvenile court is a complex world of revolving players, services, assessments, and orders.  It can be confusing to long-time participants and newbies alike, and changes can happen very quickly — or all too slowly.  To those with experience with the system, what terminology have we missed that you would add to the list?

Thank you to taking the time to share!


  1. REPLY
    anger management, says

    Yes, this is a dirty small secret that working moms, moms
    at home get hot headed, specially with their kids.
    First, look over the client’s email to identify the problem and see what you can do to solve it.

    A good example of this might be the little boy in the supermarket who
    throws a temper tantrum because he’s angry.

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