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

Tool B-1:  Frequently Asked Questions
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services –
Division of Children and Family Services

Part Two: Child Welfare System
Section B. Nebraska DHHS - Division of Children and Family Services

family of three reading a bookThe following summarizes questions about the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services – Division of Children and Family Services (DHHS) often posed by the primary systems involved in the education of students in out-of-home care. The responses are based on federal law, 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 DHHS policies, procedures and 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.

For more information about the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services – Division of Children and Family Services (DHHS), refer to Nebraska Revised Statutes (NRS) §43-707 to 43-708; NRS §68-1202 to 68-1210; and NRS §43-532 to 43-534. Additional information, including the DHHS Organizational Chart, is available on its website: http://dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/Pages/children_family_services.aspx

While DHHS serves children and youth involved in the Child Welfare Court System due to abuse, neglect and dependency as well as juvenile offenders under the jurisdiction of its Office of Juvenile Services (DHHS-OJS), the following "Frequently Asked Questions" primarily focus on those involved in the Child Welfare System. For more information about the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services – Division of Children and Family Services' Office of Juvenile Services, refer to the Systems Tool Kit - Part Three, Section D.


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. 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 (FPS), 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 following link: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/OHReform/FamMatLegalD0129.pdf

 

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services - Division of Children and Family Services


1. What is the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)?
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is a State agency whose stated mission is "helping people live better lives". There are six (6) divisions within DHHS:

  • Division of Children and Family Services which is responsible for the state's child welfare, juvenile services and economic assistance programs through offices located across Nebraska. This division provides services which address child and adult abuse, foster care, adoption, parole and community-based juvenile services, domestic violence, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Employment First, Aid to Dependent Children, Medicaid eligibility, refugee resettlement, energy assistance, child care subsidy, child support enforcement, resource development, and the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Kearney and Geneva.

  • Division of Behavioral Health which provides funding, oversight and technical assistance to the six (6) Behavioral Health Regions. The Behavioral Health Regions contract with local programs to provide public inpatient, outpatient and emergency services as well as community mental health, substance abuse and gambling addiction services;

  • Division of Developmental Disabilities which is statutorily charged with carrying out the Developmental Disabilities Services Act. Responsibilities include certification, technical assistance, regulations and payment for providers of community-based developmental disabilities services. This division is also responsible for the operation of the Beatrice State Developmental Center which is a twenty-four (24) hour intermediate care facility for persons with developmental disabilities.

  • Medicaid and Long-Term Care encompasses the Medicaid Program, Home and Community Services for Aging and Persons with Disabilities, and the State Unit on Aging. Medicaid provides health care services to eligible elderly and disabled individuals as well as eligible low-income pregnant women, children and parents. More than one (1) in every ten (10) Nebraskans receives health care through the Medicaid Program.

  • Division of Public Health which provides preventive and community health programs and services. It is also responsible for the regulation and licensure of health related professions and occupations as well as the regulation and licensure of health care facilities and services.

  • Veterans Homes which operates the State Veterans Homes located in Bellevue, Norfolk, Grand Island and Scottsbluff.

Additional information about each division of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is available on its website: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/

 

2. What is the role of a Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Case Manager?
When child abuse, neglect or dependency is suspected, a DHHS Case Manager, known as a Children 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 child's 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 the 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)

3. What is the role of a Private Contractor Caseworker?
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 Service Areas of the state, once DHHS' Initial Safety Assessment is completed, the case may be referred to a private contractor caseworker to handle case management functions.

A DHHS Contractors Directory is available on the Nebraska Families Matter Reform website: http://dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/Pages/familiesmatter.aspx

 

4. What is the role of the Case Manager (DHHS or private contractor) regarding the child or youth's education?
When a juvenile is placed in the care and custody of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, his or her Case Manager shares responsibility with the parents for ensuring that the student's educational needs are being met. Carrying out this responsibility includes:

  • Ensuring that when a child of school age is involved, Family Team meetings and the Case Plan include a discussion of the student's progress in school as well as any additional education related services which may be needed and how those services will be provided. Generally, it is preferable that the Case Manager support the parents in requesting additional education services through the school rather than the Case Manager making the request. However, when necessary, the Case Manager may make the request for services.

  • Ensuring that appropriate actions are taken when it appears education services are not being provided to the child or youth. This may include assisting the parents in advocating for the student's academic needs or requesting assistance from the DHHS Legal Team.

  • Reviewing reports from the school about the student's academic progress to ensure accurate information is available and serves as the basis for planning and reporting to the Juvenile Court Judge.

  • Ensuring that the student's education records are transferred in a timely manner if the child or youth changes schools.

When the parents are unable or unwilling to exercise education decision-making rights for their child, the school district of residence or Juvenile Court Judge overseeing the case will appoint a surrogate parent for those purposes. When this occurs, the Case Manager continues to provide support to the surrogate parent in making decisions that meet the student's educational needs. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §79-1116)

5. If there are concerns about how a child welfare case is being handled, what is the complaint process?
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services encourages individuals to address their concerns directly with the supervisor of the Case Manager (DHHS or private contractor). The Service Area Administrator or the Children and Family Services Administrator for the area in which the child or youth lives may also be contacted.

If you have a concern or suspect a child or youth is being abused or neglected, you are required by law to report this to 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.

 

State Wards


1. Who is considered a State Ward?
A State Ward is any juvenile, birth to nineteen (19) years of age, who is placed by the Juvenile Court in the legal custody of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services – Division of Children and Family Services. This can include children and youth who are made wards because of abuse, neglect or dependency as well as youth who are wards of the Division's Office of Juvenile Services (DHHS-OJS) due to law violations (delinquents). (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247)

2. Does the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services continue to have custody if a State Ward is placed with a relative?
As long as the Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over the case, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services continues to have custody of a State Ward regardless of where the child or youth is placed. When the Juvenile Court closes the case and ends its jurisdiction, custody may be given back to the birth or adoptive parents or to another adult through legal guardianship.

3. When a student is made a State Ward, how is the school notified?
When a student becomes a State Ward, whether or not removed from the parental home, 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:

  • A student who is a State Ward moves into a new school district;
  • 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 made a State Ward 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 Juvenile Court Judge 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 made a State Ward?
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 school district of residence or Juvenile Court Judge overseeing the child's case will appoint a surrogate parent to make those decisions on behalf of the student. (Source: Nebraska Revised Statute §79-1116); 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 Responsibilities for Students in Out-of-Home Care.

 

6. How do parents regain custody of their child after being taken into State custody?
A parent may regain custody of their child once the following occurs:

  • The goals established in the Case Plan and any related court orders have been achieved; and
  • The Juvenile Court Judge determines that the child or youth is safe and the risk of future abuse, neglect or other maltreatment has been eliminated or sufficiently reduced.

 

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