The Foster Care Review Office (FCRO) wants Nebraska state senators to improve the juvenile court system.
Kim Hawekotte, FCRO executive director, says the courts often handle cases too slowly.
She says there were fewer cases handled in 90 days or less last year compared to the year before.
“Our statutes are 30 years old. Do we need to take a look at those based upon today’s need,” Hawekotte tells Nebraska Radio Network. “Then we really need to look at our court system in general, and see if there are ways we can improve that court system and ensure we have the resources, so that these cases get the proper attention in a timely fashion.”
Efficiency is an overall recommendation, specifically when timelines and children are concerned, she says.
“For me, a year goes very fast, but in the life of a child, that could be 50 percent of their life that they’re out of home,” Hawekotte notes.
The Unicameral opens its next session on Jan. 4, 2017. Stakeholders are hopeful meaningful changes can be made.
“We have been extremely transparent, all the systems have been, for the past couple of years and really focused on – let’s work together to solve these issues,” Hawekotte says. “To me, that is the biggest hope for the state of Nebraska, and to really do some significant changes in the next couple of years, is that willingness to work together.”
Recommendations made in the FCRO’s annual report include:
- Conduct a legislative study with the assistance of the Legal Parties Taskforce for the Nebraska Children’s Commission examining changes needed to the juvenile court jurisdictional statutes found at Neb. Rev. Stat. 43-247 in order to appropriately meet the best interest of children and families.
- Conduct a legislative study with the assistance of the Legal Parties Taskforce for the Nebraska Children’s Commission examining ways to improve the current prosecutorial model in juvenile court.
- Enact legislation clarifying which court has jurisdiction to enter a change of custody order regarding children involved in juvenile court. This is commonly referred to as a bridge order.
- Amend the statutory caseload formula to ensure calculations are meaningful and more reflective of the case management supports needed for children under NDHHS supervision. Once completed, ensure that adequate funding is available to ensure compliance with these new caseload standards.
- Amend legislation ensuring that all youth involved with the juvenile justice system have access to court-appointed legal counsel unless waived by the youth.
- Enact legislation requiring that all children involved in the child welfare system must attend every court hearing after adjudication. This would require all parties to be trauma-informed and sensitive to the needs of the children and youth.