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Support for LB993 – Improving responses to child maltreatment

February 13, 2012

To: Members of the Judiciary Committee

From: Sarah Forrest, Policy Coordinator – Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

Re: Support for LB 993 – Improving Responses to Child Maltreatment

Responding in a coordinated, comprehensive way to allegations of child maltreatment (abuse and neglect) is crucial to keeping children safe, minimizing trauma, and reducing barriers to timely permanency for children.  Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 993 clarifies the duties of multidisciplinary teams and makes improvements to investigation processes. It also provides a starting framework for monitoring voluntary or “non-court involved” cases.

Multidisciplinary teams in Nebraska have been successful in facilitating coordination between the many parties involved in child protection cases. LB 993 clarifies protocols and delegates more responsibilities to the Child Advocacy Centers related to these teams. It will allow for coordination and continuous improvement in how Nebraska responds to child abuse and neglect among a whole range of stakeholders.

LB 993 also begins to bring voluntary cases under the jurisdiction of these teams. Voluntary cases are an important and growing tool in child welfare practice nationally. However, Nebraska lacks a uniform structure for oversight, monitoring these cases. This will allow for a more coordinated approach to providing the needed services that keep children safe and with their families whenever possible. Additional language and clarification may be required in LB 993 that ensures that while coordination of meaningful, quality services to families is provided in a voluntary nature, this oversight is not a pathway to punitive investigations, greater confusion for children and families, or unnecessary removals from the home.

Nebraska removes children from their homes at the second highest rate in the nation, about twice the national average.[1] Removing children from their homes is traumatic, especially in cases where services could be provided to keep children and families safely together in a less intrusive way. Nationally, many states have been moving towards differential response – a parallel track to investigations, which provides voluntary services to families and seeks to address risks to children’s safety in a non-confrontational way.[2]

Voices for Children believes that LB 993 is only the beginning of the work that lies ahead of Nebraska to improve the services families receive and the decisions that are made at “the front door” of our child welfare system. We encourage you to advance LB 993 as part of a longer term strategy to keep children safe, families together whenever possible, and ensure coordination and stakeholder buy-in as we continue to reform our approach to child welfare. Thank you.

[1] Casey Family Programs Powerpoint. NE DHHS: 2011.

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