A state senator says the legislature has a role to play as the state addresses cases of sexual abuse within the child welfare system.
Nebraska’s Child Welfare Inspector General reported 50 cases of sexual abuse of state wards in a roughly three-year period.
Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln says legislators must respond to the recommendations the Inspector General outlines.
“Ranging from having a stronger intake workforce to increasing training around mental health and prevention of sexual abuse to making sure that our caseload ratios are better in line with existing statutes,” Bolz tells Nebraska Radio Network.
The Inspector General reported 50 children under the care of the state were victims of substantiated sexual abuse. Twenty-seven were abused while they were state wards or placed in a residential facility licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Twenty-three youth were sexually abused after exiting the child welfare system in the adoptive or guardian home in which the state placed them. All of the cases reviewed were reported to authorities from July 2013 to October 2016.
The report makes 18 recommendations to DHHS to address shortcomings uncovered during the investigation, of which DHHS has accepted 11.
DHHS CEO Courtney Phillips points out DHHS acknowledges improvements are needed and says the department has taken steps to implement recommended changes. Phillips says the Unicameral’s Health and Human Services Committee provides oversight of the department, stating additional oversight committee is duplicative.
Bolz says lawmakers have an oversight responsibility.
“The Inspector General’s report also indicated that there is some need for some culture change in terms of immediacy of action in response to circumstances of abuse,” Bolz says.
Bolz understands DHHS says it is taking steps to address the problem.
“I embrace every strategy that the Department of Health and Human Services is taking to make improvements and protect our kids,” Boz says. “At the same time, the legislative branch has an oversight responsibility and it’s part of my job as a state senator to provide oversight and look into issues where the public wellbeing is in consideration.”
You can read the full report here.