Nebraska's Tool Kit for Systems Involved in the Education of Students in Out-of-Home Care

Tool A-1:  Frequently Asked Questions
Child Abuse, Neglect and Dependency

Part Two: Child Welfare System
Section A. Nebraska's Child Welfare Court System

two young girls looking straight aheadThe following summarizes questions about child abuse, neglect and dependency often posed by the primary systems involved in the education of students in out-of-home care. The responses are based on Nebraska statute, administrative rules, regulations and State agency memoranda. While statutory law, rules and regulations may address these topics in general terms, familiarity and discussion as to how any one agency’s policies and procedures or Court protocols may relate to a particular student under a specific set of circumstances is recommended as a matter of “best practice” and may greatly assist in advocating for that child or youth.

View the Nebraska Child Welfare System (PDF)

The majority of children and youth in out-of-home care are under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court. If the juvenile is abused, neglected or dependent as defined in Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247(3)(a), he or she comes under the jurisdiction of the Child Welfare Court System (Juvenile Court). For more information about Nebraska’s Child Welfare Court System, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Tool A-2: Frequently Asked Questions.

The Juvenile Court also has jurisdiction over juveniles who have committed law violations as described in Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247. These cases may be filed in Juvenile Court or in an adult criminal court (County Court or District Court). Topics related to juveniles under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court, County Court or District Court for law violations are addressed in the Systems Tool Kit - Part Three, Section A. Nebraska’s Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems.

 

Child Abuse, Neglect and Dependency


1. What is considered child abuse or neglect?
Under the Nebraska Child Protection Act, “child abuse or neglect means knowingly, intentionally or negligently causing or permitting a minor child to be:

  • Placed in a situation that endangers his or her life or physical or mental health;
  • Cruelly confined or cruelly punished;
  • Deprived of necessary food, clothing, shelter or care;
  • Left unattended in a motor vehicle if the child is six (6) years of age or younger;
  • Sexually abused; or
  • Sexually exploited by allowing, encouraging or forcing a child to solicit or engage in prostitution, debauchery, public indecency, or obscene or pornographic photography, films or depictions.”
    (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute (NRS) §28-710(2)

2. What is considered child dependency?
In the context of the Child Welfare Court System, the term “dependent child” means no maltreatment has been identified, but the parent is or will be unable to care for the child through no fault of the parent. The parent may be incapacitated or absent due to illness, death, incarceration, or otherwise unavoidably unable to provide care for the child or youth. Or, the juvenile may have extraordinary mental health, emotional or physical needs which the parent does not have the ability or capacity to meet. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247(3)(a)

3. What is considered educational neglect?
Educational neglect means the failure or refusal of the parent, guardian or custodian to ensure a child, who will turn six (6) years of age before January 1st of that school year or has not yet reached eighteen (18) years of age, receives an appropriate education and regularly attends school. However, a student who is sixteen (16) years of age or older may dis-enroll from school with notarized written consent from his or her parent or guardian. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §79-201)

4. Under what circumstances may the Juvenile Court take jurisdiction of a child or youth because of abuse, neglect or dependency?
Under Nebraska statute, a juvenile may come under the Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction for reasons of abuse, neglect or dependency if that child or youth is:

  • Homeless, destitute, or without proper support through no fault of the parent, guardian or custodian;
  • Abandoned by the parent, guardian or custodian;
  • Lacks proper parental care due to the fault or habits of the parent, guardian or custodian;
  • Whose parent, guardian or custodian neglects or refuses to provide proper or necessary subsistence, education, or other care necessary for the health, morals or well-being of the juvenile;
  • Whose parent, guardian or custodian is unable to provide, neglects or refuses to provide special care necessary due to the juvenile’s mental condition; or
  • In a situation or engages in an occupation dangerous to life or limb or injurious to the health or morals of the juvenile.
    (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247(3)(a)

5. What is the school’s responsibility for reporting suspected child abuse and neglect?
Nebraska law requires any person who suspects a child has been physically or sexually abused or neglected must promptly report it to law enforcement or the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). School staff, such as teachers, School Counselors, Social Workers, nurses, bus drivers and other personnel, are in a position to be aware of a student’s needs or concerns which may have gone unnoticed by others. Whenever there is any suspicion of abuse or neglect or concerns about a student’s welfare or safety, it is critical that school staff share this information with the appropriate authorities.

If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call the Nebraska Child Abuse / Neglect Hotline at 1-800-652-1999. If this is an emergency, contact local law enforcement immediately.

The Hotline is available twenty-four (24) hours a day, seven (7) days a week. You can make an anonymous report, or if you choose to give your name, it will be kept confidential unless the Court orders disclosure.

If the student is already involved in the Child Welfare Court System, any concerns regarding abuse or neglect should also be shared with the child’s Case Manager (DHHS or private contractor), Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), and/or Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer. Those individuals are responsible for advocating for the student’s best interests in Juvenile Court and can ensure this important information is brought to the attention of the Judge. The Juvenile Court Judge cannot be directly contacted about a specific child or youth because due process requirements prohibit judges from private communications about court cases. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-711; and NRS §28-716 to 28-717)

Please note, in January of 2011, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) transferred child welfare and juvenile services case management functions to private contractors in the Eastern and Southeastern Service Areas of the state as part of the Nebraska Families Matter Reform. In the Eastern Service Area, two-thirds (2/3) of families receive case management from private contractors and one-third (1/3) from DHHS. The goal of the Families Matter Reform is to improve the outcomes of child safety, community safety, permanency and well-being for children, youth and families.

Private contractor caseworkers, known as Family Permanency Specialists, will handle certain case management functions previously performed by DHHS Children and Family Services Specialists (CFSS). DHHS staff assigned to work with those contract staff are now known as Children and Family Outcome Monitors (CFOM) and will take on a new role of monitoring outcomes and analyzing data as well as continuing to make key decisions as required by Nebraska statute. DHHS retains responsibility for child abuse investigations.

A Families Matter Overview, illustrating the processes and responsibilities for providing services and assistance to children and youth involved in the Child Welfare System and Juvenile Justice System through DHHS is provided in the Systems Tool Kit – Part Two, Tool B-2. The Overview is also available through the DHHS website: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/OHReform/FamMatLegalD0129.pdf


Protective Custody


1. Under what circumstances is a child or youth believed to be abused or neglected taken into protective custody by a law enforcement officer?
A juvenile may be taken into temporary custody by a law enforcement officer, without a warrant or court order, when seriously endangered in his or her surroundings and immediate removal appears to be necessary for protection of that child or youth. A Juvenile Court Judge may order a law enforcement officer to take a child or youth into immediate custody if it appears that the juvenile is living in conditions or surroundings which require custody be immediately assumed by the Court. Only a law enforcement officer has the statutory authority to take a juvenile into protective custody under those circumstances. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-713; NRS §43-248(3); and NRS §43-266)

2. What happens to a child or youth after being taken into protective custody?
After being taken into protective custody, the law enforcement officer may temporarily place a child or youth taken into protective custody with a relative or with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services for out-of-home care in the least restrictive environment. DHHS supervises the juvenile’s placement and, if necessary, consents to any emergency medical, psychological or psychiatric treatment needed.

Immediately following the child or youth’s removal from the parental home, the Court or person in charge of the juvenile proceeds as follows:

  • Conducts an investigation of the child’s circumstances, designed to either establish a safe and appropriate plan for rehabilitation of the juvenile and the family or recommend permanent out-of-home placement;
  • Requires that the child receive a medical examination within two (2) weeks of removal from the parental home; and
  • Requires the child undergo further diagnosis and evaluation, as necessary.

After the above investigation, examination and evaluation are completed immediately following the initial out-of-home placement, the Court or person in charge of the juvenile will ensure that a safe and appropriate plan for the child is established. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-250(4); and NRS §43-1311 to 43-1312)

For more information about the Nebraska Safety Intervention System, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Section B. Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services – Division of Children and Family Services. Additional information is available on the DHHS website: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/


3. How is the school notified when a student is taken into protective custody and placed with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services?
If the student moves into a new school district as a result of out-of-home placement, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services sends a notification letter to the School Superintendent, with a copy to the school building’s Principal.

The School Superintendent’s Letter is also sent under the following circumstances:

  • The student becomes a State Ward;
  • Parental involvement has changed;
  • The parents have relinquished their parental rights or those rights have been terminated by the Court;
  • The parents have had their education decision-making rights terminated by the Court and a surrogate parent has been appointed to make those decisions for the student; or
  • The student is no longer a State Ward.
    (Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Manual 390, Chapter 11-002.02)

A sample of the School Superintendent’s Letter is provided in the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Tool B-3.


4. Can a student continue to attend the same school after being taken into protective custody and placed in out-of-home care?
Nebraska statute requires a child or youth in out-of-home care be allowed to attend the same school as prior to out-of-home placement, unless the Court or person in charge of the juvenile determines attending the same school would not be in the student’s best interests. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-1311(4)

5. Who makes education-related decisions for a student who has been placed in protective custody?
The parents continue to retain the right to make education-related decisions on behalf of their child unless those rights are specifically terminated by the Juvenile Court. If the parents’ education decision-making rights are terminated, the Juvenile Court or school district will appoint a surrogate parent to make those decisions on behalf of the student. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §79-215(7) to (12); and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Manual 390, Chapter 11-002.02)

For more information about Surrogate Parents for Education Decision-Making, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Four, Tool B-1: Frequently Asked Questions – Education Rights and Responsibility for Students in Out-of-Home Care.


Child Abuse and Neglect Teams


1. What is a Child Abuse and Neglect Investigation Team?
In Nebraska, each county or contiguous group of counties is required by statute to create a Child Abuse and Neglect Investigation Team. Its members must include the following individuals or representatives:

  • County Attorney;
  • Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Each law enforcement agency in the county(s);
  • Local Child Advocacy Center; and
  • Other agencies as determined by the team.
    (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-728(3); and NRS §28-729)

2. What does a Child Abuse and Neglect Investigation Team do?
The Child Abuse and Neglect Investigation Team is convened by the County Attorney to ensure that protocols are established and implemented for the following:

  • Conducting joint investigations of child abuse and neglect;
  • Ensuring a law enforcement agency participates in those investigations;
  • Arranging a video-taped forensic interview at a Child Advocacy Center for children, sixteen (16) years of age or younger, who allege sexual abuse, serious physical abuse or neglect, have witnessed a violent crime, been removed from a clandestine drug lab, or been recovered from a kidnapping;
  • Reducing the risk of harm to child abuse and neglect victims;
  • Ensuring the child or youth is in safe surroundings, including removal of the perpetrator when necessary;
  • Sharing case information; and
  • Responding to drug-endangered children and youth.
    (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-728(3); and NRS §28-729)

3. What is a Child Abuse and Neglect Treatment Team?
Each county or contiguous group of counties is required by statute to create a Child Abuse and Neglect Treatment Team. Its members must include the following individuals or representatives:

  • County Attorney;
  • Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Juvenile Probation Officer;
  • Local mental health or medical professional;
  • Each school district in the county(s);
  • Local Child Advocacy Center; and
  • Other agencies as determined by the team.
    (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-728(4); and NRS §28-729)

4. What does a Child Abuse and Neglect Treatment Team do?
The Child Abuse and Neglect Treatment Team is convened by the County Attorney to ensure that protocols are established and implemented for the following:

  • Case coordination and assistance, including location of available services;
  • Case staffing and coordination;
  • Development, implementation and monitoring of Treatment Plans;
  • Reducing the risk of harm to child abuse and neglect victims;
  • Assisting victims who have been abused and neglected by perpetrators who do not reside in the child’s home; and
  • Working with multi-problem delinquent youth.
    (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-728(4); and NRS §28-729)

 

Child Advocacy Centers


1. What is a Child Advocacy Center (CAC)?
In Nebraska, each county or contiguous group of counties is assigned to a Child Advocacy Center by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers provide a child-focused response to support the physical, emotional and psychological needs of juveniles who are victims of abuse or neglect. CAC Advocates help prepare the child or youth for their testimony against the perpetrator in court as well as provide ongoing support to the juvenile and the family. By law, each Child Advocacy Center must meet the National Children’s Alliance accreditation criteria. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-278)

2. What is the Child Advocacy Center’s role on a Child Abuse and Neglect Investigation Team?
By statute, a Child Advocacy Center representative is assigned to each Child Abuse and Neglect Investigation Team to assist the County Attorney in facilitating case review, developing and updating protocols, and arranging training. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-278)

3. Where are Child Advocacy Centers located in Nebraska?
There are Child Advocacy Centers serving every region of the state. Those Centers are currently located in Grand Island, Kearney, Lincoln, Norfolk, North Platte, Omaha and Scottsbluff.

A Listing of Child Advocacy Centers in Nebraska is provided in the System Tool Kit - Part Two, Tool A-5 and Tool B-4.

 

 

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