The Nebraska foster care system has been in the news quite a bit lately. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is in the middle of a reform process to move toward privatization of the system. The news has been filled with the problems Nebraska is having maintaining an adequate level of infrastructure after three of five contract lead agencies either backed out or went under.
Many senators have been contacted by their constituents to address multiple issues that have come to light in this process toward privatization; in fact, over a dozen bills have been introduced this session. I have introduced four bills in hopes to make some constructive improvements after watching my daughter and her husband endure the frustrations of being a foster parent in Nebraska, dealing with a broken system that fails many of the children who have the unfortunate privilege of being caught up in it.
I introduced Legislative Bills 648, 649, 650, and 651 to try to provide some practical suggestion for improving the system.
LB 648 addresses notification between foster parents, the state, and the courts; raises the standing of foster parents in the context of a hearing to remove a foster child from the foster parents' home; and requires judges to inquire about the foster child from any willing foster parent, preadoptive parent, or relative caring for the child who has made the effort to be present at the hearing.
LB 649 would require the Judiciary Committee to continue to study Nebraska's guardian ad litem system and develop legislative recommendation to improve the system and how to handle a poor guardian ad litem who is not being a zealous advocate for the best interest of the child.
LB 650 would force the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a written statement that clearly explains the rights and responsibilities of foster parents. What I have found out through my experience is that many foster parents do not know what they can or cannot due once they run up against bad actors in the systems. I modeled this after a law passed in Texas.
Finally, LB 651 would try and obtain information to identify major problems in the system by charging the Foster Care Review Board to oversee an annual program audit and survey for the next five years. This would allow us to look at cases from beginning to end to see what works well and where breakdowns occur. It would also look at how well HHS is complying with statute and regulations.
LB 648 and 649 were heard on Wednesday, February 9 in the Judiciary Committee along with three other bills. I was encouraged by the testimonies and questioning during the hearings; it seems that there is momentum in the Legislature to address many of the complicated issues facing our foster care system.
Hearings for LB 650 and 651 are scheduled for Wednesday, February 16, in the Health and Human Services Committee.
If you have comments, concerns, or questions about these bills or any other issue, please, call my office at 402-471-2805 or for more information you can view my legislative website at http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist44/.