The Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare, Julie L. Rogers,today announced a systemic investigation into whether adequate steps are being taken by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
(DHHS) to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and exploitation of youth in the state’s care.The investigation is based on 36 reports received since July 2013 of state wards, youth placed in state licensed facilities, and youth adopted from the child welfare system who were subjected to sexual abuse or exploitation.
The Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare (OIG) has provided notice to DHHS of its investigation, and over the course of the next few months will gather and analyze data, review all
relevant information, and conduct interviews. The investigation’s recommendations will be made public in September 2017, as part of the OIG’s release of its annual report.
“We know that children and youth in the state’s care both in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are particularly vulnerable.
Many have already been victims of abuse or neglect, have experienced trauma,or both,” said Rogers. “This investigation will focus on better understanding when and why certain youth, whose protection is incumbent on the state of Nebraska, are being sexually abused and victimized.
The key purpose of this investigation will be identifying areas for improvement and making recommendations regarding how Nebraska can better prevent and respond to abuse of children in the state’s care.”
KMTV spoke with Nebraska state senator Sara Howard about these findings, "I personally find it sickening that there were 36 cases of sexual abuse or trauma."
Howard said she's disturbed children across the state are being sexually abused while in the state's care, "These kids are our kids, once we decide to take them away from their home they are wards of the state and the state's children and we should treat them as the precious commodity they are."
One of the contributing factors Howard said could be the big workload placed on the case workers which could lead to less thorough background checks on the foster parents or group homes, "We really need to be more rigorous and thoughtful about who these child are being exposed to in those foster care settings and what type of screenings we are proving them with," said Howard.
In 2008, Howard said the state cut back from a number of areas including the child welfare system which is now starting to see the ramifications of that decision.
"All I can see is that we are getting to a crisis point between child deaths, serious harm or injury and sexual abuse in our own child welfare system when we're supposed to be removing these children from their own safety," said Howard.
Anyone with concerns about the safety of a child should immediately call the Nebraska Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-800-652-1999.
Those with information relevant to the OIG’s investigation can contact the office through an online form, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or by telephone (1-855-460-6784).