A package of child welfare legislation has been unveiled at the Capitol.
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln proposes legislation that would require juveniles receive legal representation.
“If there’s even a chance that a child would be placed out of home or into detention and we haven’t given them the proper and constitutional protections, then, it’s abysmal,” Pansing Brooks tells reporters during a news conference.
The legislation stems from priorities issued by the Nebraska Children’s Commission.
Another piece calls for the state to invest more money to meet caseload standards for children in the child welfare system.
Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha acknowledges her bill comes with a price tag approaching one million dollars, but she says legislators need to look long-term on this issue.
“I have to think about what my colleagues feel about the price of the death of a child,” Howard says. “Every time we lose a child who is in foster care, we have to look at whether that caseworker had adequate support to do that work.”
State officials have investigated more than 20 deaths or serious injuries of children in the state welfare system over the past couple of years. Howard says there were more than 30 incidents of sexual abuse of children after being removed from their homes.
Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln proposes extending the foster care program to youth up to the age of 21.
“The goal is to support successful transitions to adulthood and avoid homelessness,” Bolz says. “Participants must be working or attending school or job training in order to qualify. I believe that this legislation will help more young people successfully transition into work, education, and successful adulthood.”
Other legislation would appropriate more money to reduce child welfare caseloads, require legal representation in juvenile court, and establish a bridge custody order to keep children out of juvenile court.
Bolz also proposes so-called bridge custody, which would place a child with a parent determined by the courts to provide a safe home rather than allowing the child to languish in juvenile court while permanent custody is determined.
Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this report.