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

Tool A-2:  Frequently Asked Questions
Nebraska's Child Welfare Court System

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

three siblings huggingThe following summarizes questions about Nebraska’s Child Welfare Court System 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.

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 Child Abuse, Neglect and Dependency, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Tool A-1.

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.

 

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.

For more information about the Nebraska Families Matter Reform Initiative, refer to its website: http://dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/Pages/familiesmatter.aspx


Child Welfare Court System


1. What is the Child Welfare Court System and what does it do?
four children sitting together and smilingThe Child Welfare Court System is comprised of the Juvenile Court as well as several agencies, organizations and entities working together to ensure the safety and well-being of children and youth who are abused, neglected, or dependent. The primary professionals involved in those cases are discussed in the “Who’s Who in the Child Welfare Court Process” section on the following pages.

The Child Welfare Court System intervenes and acts in the child or youth’s best interests, with due regard for parental rights and responsibilities. In addition “to acting to preserve the public peace and security”, the Juvenile Court assures the rights of all juveniles to the following:

  • Care and protection;
  • A safe and stable living environment;
  • Development of their capacities for a healthy personality, physical well-being and useful citizenship; and
  • Protection of the public interest.

The Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction extends to the child’s birth or adoptive parents or guardian. Full due process protections and considerations must be observed and provided to the juvenile and the parents throughout the Child Welfare Court Process. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute (NRS) §43-246(1) and (2)

2. What type of courts have jurisdiction over child welfare cases?
In Nebraska, the Juvenile Court has jurisdiction in cases involving any child or youth, from birth to nineteen (19) years of age, believed to be abused, neglected, abandoned or dependent, as defined in Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247(3)(a). There are three (3) Separate Juvenile Courts, with one each in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy Counties. In the remaining ninety (90) counties, those cases are heard by a County Court acting as the Juvenile Court. A Separate Juvenile Court has the same jurisdiction and follows the same procedures as a County Court acting as a Juvenile Court.

Additionally, each of the tribes with governmental headquarters in Nebraska operates a Tribal Court. Tribal Courts have jurisdiction over tribal members and limited jurisdiction over non-members, including non-Native Americans. Tribal Courts adjudicate civil and criminal cases, including child custody proceedings, domestic violence protection orders, family law, juvenile law, landlord/tenant law, contract disputes and criminal acts.
(Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247; NRS §43-1503(12); and NRS §43-2111 to 43-2113)

For more information about the Tribal Courts and Native American Students, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Six, Section E.


3. How does a child or youth become involved in the Child Welfare Court System?
Under Nebraska statute, the Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over cases involving any juvenile who:

  • Is homeless, destitute or without proper support through no fault of the parent, guardian or custodian;

  • Is 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 child or youth;

  • Whose parent, guardian or custodian is unable to provide, neglects or refuses to provide special care necessary due to the child or youth’s mental condition; or

  • Is in a situation or engages in an occupation dangerous to life or limb or injurious to the health or morals of the child or youth.
    (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247(3)(a)

4. What happens once a child or youth is involved in the Child Welfare Court System?
Once a juvenile who has been abused, neglected, abandoned or dependent becomes involved in the Child Welfare Court System, Nebraska statute requires that the following hearings and events occur:

  • Filing of Juvenile Petition – The County Attorney initiates the child welfare court case by filing a Petition alleging child abuse, neglect or dependency in Juvenile Court. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-275)

  • Ex Parte Order for Temporary Custody – The Juvenile Court must issue an Ex Parte Order for temporary custody within forty-eight (48) hours of the child or youth being removed from the parental home and placed in protective custody by law enforcement. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-250(4)

  • Pre-Hearing Conference – Prior to a Protective Custody Hearing, the parties involved in the case may attend a Pre-Hearing Conference to discuss whether the child may be safely returned home, the services to be offered to the juvenile and the family, parent / child visitation, and any other concerns or issues related to the case. While Pre-Hearing Conferences are not required by law, they are considered a matter of “best practice”. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247.01)

  • Protective Custody Hearing – This hearing is typically held within a few days of the child or youth’s removal from the parental home. It provides due process for both the parents and the juvenile to ensure removal from the home was and continues to be necessary. If the Juvenile Court Judge determines returning the child to the parental home poses a risk to his or her safety, the Judge will enter an order continuing the juvenile’s placement in out-of-home care. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-254)

  • Adjudication Hearing – An Adjudication Hearing usually occurs within ninety (90) days of the child or youth’s removal from the parental home. This is similar to a “trial” as the County Attorney, Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), and the parents’ attorney(s) present evidence and question witnesses. The Juvenile Court Judge makes a determination as to whether the allegations of child abuse, neglect or dependency specified in the Petition have been proven. If the Judge finds the allegations in the Petition have not been proven, a juvenile in out-of-home care will be returned to the parents. If the allegations in the Petition are proven, the Judge will order the child to remain in out-of-home care and a Case Plan be developed to correct the conditions in the parental home. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-278; and NRS §43-279.01)
    Disposition Hearing – A Disposition Hearing usually occurs within thirty (30) days after the Adjudication Hearing. The Juvenile Court Judge may approve or amend the Case Plan which may direct the child or youth to be returned home or continue in out-of-home care, and specifies the services to be provided to the juvenile and the family. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statutes §43-284 to 43-285)

  • Review Hearing – These hearings usually occur at least every six (6) months after the Disposition Hearing. The Juvenile Court Judge reviews the status of the case, including progress made by the parents, whether court-ordered services were provided, the child’s education status, and any changes needed in the Case Plan. Review Hearings help to ensure the case moves forward and the child or youth spends as little time as possible in out-of-home care. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-1313)

  • Permanency Hearing – This hearing occurs within twelve (12) months after the juvenile’s removal from the parental home and at least every twelve (12) months thereafter. A Permanency Hearing focuses on reaching a permanent living situation for the child. The Juvenile Court Judge decides if the current permanency goal is achievable in a timely manner and whether changes are needed in the Case Plan. Possible permanency goals may include family reunification with the juvenile returning to the parental home, adoption or guardianship. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-1312)

  • Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) – If the child or youth has been in out-of-home care for fifteen (15) out of the last twenty-two (22) months, the County Attorney may file a motion in Juvenile Court for termination of parental rights (TPR). If the parents do not correct the conditions which led to the juvenile’s removal from the home, the Juvenile Court Judge may permanently terminate their rights to raise their child. The County Attorney may file a TPR Petition earlier under conditions of extreme abuse or if there is evidence the parents are unwilling or unable to correct the conditions in the home. Once parental rights are terminated, the parents no longer have any legal rights to their child and are no longer responsible for the juvenile. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-292)

A sample process, illustrating how a child abuse, neglect or dependency case may progress through Nebraska’s Child Welfare Court System, is provided in the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Tool A-3.


5. Are all child welfare cases involved in the Child Welfare Court System?
No. Some children and youth being served by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services – Division of Children and Family Services (DHHS) are involved through voluntary agreement by their parents. However, the majority of cases involving child abuse, neglect and dependency are handled by the Juvenile Court.

6. What education related information does the Juvenile Court typically receive in child welfare cases?
Education related information, such as the student’s school, grade level, participation in general or special education programs, school attendance records, report cards and grades, information from an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan, and any relevant behavioral or disciplinary information, may be included in each of the following reports:

  • Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ Case Plan and Court Report;
  • Guardian Ad Litem’s (GAL) Case Report;
  • Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer’s Case Report;
  • Caregiver Information Form; and
  • Other diagnostic and supplemental reports as ordered by the Juvenile Court, such as mental health or substance abuse evaluations.

For more information about the DHHS Case Plan and Court Report, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Section B. Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services – Division of Children and Family Services.

For more information about the CASA Volunteer’s Case Report, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Section C. Court-Appointed Special Advocate Volunteers.

A sample of the Caregiver Information Form is provided in the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Tool A-4.


7. Can a student involved in the Child Welfare Court System continue to attend the same school after being placed in out-of-home care or when a change in out-of-home placement occurs?
Nebraska statute requires a child or youth in out-of-home care 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)

 

Who's Who in the Child Welfare Court Process


1. Who are the primary agencies, organizations and individuals involved in the Child Welfare Court Process?

  • Juvenile Court Judge – The Judge conducts all Juvenile Court hearings, during which evidence and witness testimony is provided from the involved parties. After hearing the evidence, the Judge makes a decision about what actions should be taken in the best interests of the juvenile. The Judge is also responsible for ensuring all due process rights of both the parents and the child are protected.

Additional information about Nebraska’s Juvenile Courts is available on the Nebraska Supreme Court website:
http://www.supremecourt.ne.gov/supreme-court/index.shtml


  • DHHS Case Manager (Children and Family Services Specialist or Children and Family Outcome Monitor) - When child abuse, neglect or dependency is suspected, a DHHS Case Manager, known as a Child and Family Services Specialist (CFSS), is assigned to investigate and assess the juvenile’s safety. If the Initial Safety Assessment determines the child or youth is not safe and intervention is needed, a Case Manager (DHHS or private contractor) is assigned to the case. The Case Manager attends all Juvenile Court hearings and makes recommendations about the Case Plan and Permanency Plan, parent / child visitation, the school situation, and the type of services which should be provided. The Case Manager is responsible for ensuring that appropriate services are provided and for keeping in contact with the juvenile and the family on a regular basis. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-707)

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

 

Please note, in January of 2011, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services 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 those Service Areas, two-thirds (2/3) of families receive case management from private contractors and one-third (1/3) from DHHS. Private contractor caseworkers, known as Family Permanency Specialists, 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 have taken 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. Additional information about the Nebraska Families Matter Reform is provided on its website: http://dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/Pages/familiesmatter.aspx

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 Families Matter Overview is also available through the DHHS website: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/OHReform/FamMatLegalD0129.pdf


  • Private Contractor Caseworker (Family Permanency Specialist) – A private contractor caseworker, known as a Family Permanency Specialist (FPS), is employed by a private agency or organization under contract to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, such as KVC Behavioral HealthCare Nebraska or Nebraska Families Collaborative (NFC). In the Eastern and Southeastern Services Areas of the state, once DHHS’ Initial Safety Assessment is completed, the case is referred to a private contractor caseworker to handle certain case management functions.

  • County Attorney – Each county in Nebraska elects a County Attorney every four (4) years. Among the County Attorney’s duties is the prosecution of child welfare and delinquency cases in Juvenile Court as well as adult criminal cases in County Court or District Court. The County Attorney is responsible for initiating child welfare cases in Juvenile Court by filing a Petition alleging abuse, neglect or dependency. The County Attorney works with the juvenile’s Case Manager (DHHS or private contractor) and other involved parties to make recommendations to the Juvenile Court as to the actions to be taken in the child’s best interests. The County Attorney is responsible for convening the county’s Child Abuse and Neglect Investigation Team as well as the Child Abuse and Neglect Treatment Team. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-274; and NRS §28-728(3)

Additional information about County Attorneys is available on the Nebraska Association of County Attorneys website: http://necaa.org/


  • Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) – A Guardian Ad Litem is the attorney who represents the juvenile’s best interests and legal interests. All children and youth involved in the Child Welfare Court System due to abuse, neglect or dependency will have a GAL appointed to their case. The GAL is responsible for investigating the allegations in the Petition, meeting with the juvenile and the child welfare professionals involved in the case, and making recommendations to the Juvenile Court as to what is in the child’s best interests. The GAL also meets with the student’s teachers and obtains education related information from the school as directed by court order. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statutes §43-272 to 43-273; and NRS §43-292.02)

For more information about Guardians Ad Litem, including their role, responsibilities and duties in Child Welfare Court cases, refer to “Nebraska Guidelines for Guardians Ad Litem for Juveniles in Juvenile Court Proceedings” on the Nebraska Supreme Court website: http://www.supremecourt.ne.gov/rules/misc/GAL_Guidelines.pdf


  • Parent’s Attorney – Parents involved in child abuse, neglect and dependency cases are entitled to a court-appointed attorney if they cannot afford to hire an attorney. Whether court-appointed or privately hired, this attorney’s role is to advocate for their clients, ensuring that the parents receive all due process rights and the services they need and are entitled to. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statutes §43-272 to 43-273)

  • Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer – A Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer is an individual from the community who has been specially screened, trained and appointed by the Juvenile Court Judge to speak in court on behalf of an abused, neglected or dependent child while ensuring their safety and well-being. The CASA volunteer serves as an independent investigator and advocate, gathering information about the juvenile and providing recommendations to the Juvenile Court as to the actions to be taken in the child’s best interests so he or she can thrive in a safe and permanent home environment. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §272.02; and NRS §43-3701 to 43-3716)

For more information about Court-Appointed Special Advocate Volunteers, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Section C. Additional information is available on the Nebraska CASA Association website: http://www.nebraskacasa.org and the National CASA Association website: http://www.casaforchildren.org


  • Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) – Local Foster Care Review Boards, made up of trained community volunteers, review the Case Plans of children and youth in out-of-home care in their community and solicit information from interested parties, such as teachers, therapists and attorneys. The local FCRB determines what is currently happening with the child’s case, if the juvenile’s needs are being met, and if the Case Plan is appropriate. The Board develops formal recommendations which, along with the information provided during the review, are included in a final report submitted to the Juvenile Court Judge and all legal parties involved in the case. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-1308)

For more information about Nebraska’s Foster Care Review Boards, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Section D. Additional information is available on the Nebraska State Foster Care Review Board website: http://www.fcrb.nebraska.gov


  • Child Abuse and Neglect Investigation Team - Each county or contiguous group of counties in Nebraska is required by statute to create a Child Abuse and Neglect Investigation Team which includes representatives from the County Attorney’s Office, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, each law enforcement agency in the county(s), the local Child Advocacy Center, and other agencies as determined by the Team. The Investigation Team is responsible for ensuring that protocols are established and implemented for conducting joint investigations of child abuse and neglect. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-728(3); and NRS §28-729)

For more information about Child Abuse and Neglect Treatment Teams, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Tool A-1: Frequently Asked Questions – Child Abuse, Neglect and Dependency.


  • 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 which includes representatives from the County Attorney’s Office, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, a Juvenile Probation Officer, local mental health or medical professional, each school district in the county(s), the local Child Advocacy Center, and other agencies as determined by the Team. The Treatment Team is responsible for ensuring that protocols are established and implemented for case coordination, staffing and implementation of Treatment Plans. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §28-728(4); and NRS §28-729)

For more information about Child Abuse and Neglect Treatment Teams, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Tool A-1: Frequently Asked Questions – Child Abuse, Neglect and Dependency.


  • Child Advocacy Center (CAC) - Each county or contiguous group of counties in Nebraska is assigned to a Child Advocacy Center by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. These 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 statute, a CAC 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)

For more information about Child Advocacy Centers in Nebraska, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Two, Tool A-1: Frequently Asked Questions – Child Abuse, Neglect and Dependency. A Listing of Child Advocacy Centers in Nebraska is provided in the Systems Tool Kit Part Two, Tool A-5 and Tool B-4.

 

 

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