Courts must focus on kids

Friday, January 7, 2005

Courts can be cold, impersonal places. That may be okay when law-breaking adults are involved, but it is tragic when children are forced to endure the consequences of their parents' criminal actions.

That happens far too often, as was brought to light a year ago when Gov. Mike Johanns appointed a task force to study the problem of children's deaths in Nebraska. In the search for solutions, the task force determined that courts could and should do more to protect children.

The recommendations were taken to heart. On Friday, Nebraska Chief Justice John V. Hendry accounced the formation of the Supreme Court Commission on Children in the Courts. The 34-member commission will be made up of judges, lawyers, legislators, state officials and children's advocates.

As described by Janice Walker, the deputy state court administrator, the goal of the commission is to ensure that the court system is as responsive as possible for children who interact with, or are directly affected by, the courts.

Walker is well-known in Southwest Nebraska as she served as associate county judge in Red Willow County before moving to Lincoln in 1984.

"The commission will be looking at how well children are being represented in the court system," she said. Among the specific ideas are family dependency drug courts and intense supervision programs, she said. "There is also the matter of time, which is of critical importance in the life of a child," Walker declared. "The courts need to find better and faster ways of addressing the needs of children."

Other considerations for the commission on Children in the Courts will be specialized family courts and ways in which welfare agencies and volunteers, such as CASA, can work together.

The commission as a whole will meet quarterly, and sub-committees will be set up to meet on a regular basis to investigate specific concerns.

Changes are definitely needed. For too long, the welfare of children has been overlooked. By forming the commission, Chief Justice Hendry has assured that ongoing attention will be focused on the problem, hopefully leading to improvements in how the courts serve the needs of children.

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