In her first six months as inspector general of child welfare in Nebraska, Julie Rogers has heard a lot of concerns about the system.
And people are anxious to get to solutions for the problems identified in the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee substantial report on child welfare.
Rogers told the committee Wednesday that families involved in the system should be given fair treatment, and a better system of checks and balances should be established.
As inspector general, Rogers gets phone calls, letters, emails and other communications from parents and others involved in or watching the state’s child welfare system.
Rogers’ position was created in the last session as part of a package of child welfare bills (LB821) to investigate, audit, inspect and review the system. Hers is a unique position, the only inspector general program within the legislative branch, rather than the executive branch, she said.
She has learned that many times parents thrown into the system are confused about vague expectations and unanswered questions. They don’t understand the process.
Clear, specific information should be communicated to parents whose children have been made state wards or who have asked for services so they can understand how to be successful, Rogers said.
Caseworkers should be able to clearly communicate expectations and the reasons behind them.
Using a new method of deciding when to remove children from their homes and how to get caseworkers appropriate training should help, she said.
Clear documentation of cases also would help, Rogers said. As the Foster Care Review Office has reported, documents are often missing or incomplete in case files. That makes it difficult for judges and others to make appropriate decisions regarding children, she said.
“With caseloads now reasonable it is not acceptable to have missing or incomplete files of documentation,” she said.
Other concerns she has seen include these.
* Guardians ad litem. Competent and active attorneys for children, called guardians ad litem, are critical in child welfare cases. Recommendations were made in 2010 to improve the guardian ad litem system, including adopting clear duties and powers, requiring the attorneys to meet personally with children they represent, significantly increasing training and establishing centralized oversight.
Committee Chairwoman Kathy Campbell said she considered introducing a bill on guardians ad litem this session and decided to wait.
“But it continues to be, I think, an issue that we need to turn some attention to,” she said.
* Voluntary cases. There are concerns about whether parents understand that cases in which no court is involved are voluntary, understand their rights and the expectations of them, and whether there is appropriate oversight without infringing on their rights.
* LB1184 teams. There have been reports that with some teams across the state that monitor and coordinate the investigation and treatment of non-court cases where child abuse or neglect has been found, there may be an imbalance of power between county attorneys, caseworkers and guardians ad litem.
With that imbalance, the purpose of the teams — such as coordination of services for families and inclusive decision making — could become secondary to gathering information to file or present further evidence in juvenile court.
* Contract accountability. There continues to be a lack of contract oversight by HHS of nonprofit and for-profit service providers to ensure that what the state is paying for are quality services.
Rogers said it was her understanding the department is implementing a new system of accountability.
* High-needs children. There are a group of high-risk children who cannot access needed behavioral health or developmental services to address their “extremely aggressive” behaviors. These kids must either be placed out of state or they don’t get the services.
Reach the writer of this article, JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or firstname.lastname@example.org .