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Report: Juvenile justice, child welfare problems persisting in Nebraska despite reforms


LINCOLN, Nebraska — Nebraska's juvenile justice system is failing to meet all of the goals that lawmakers set two years ago, resulting in higher than expected costs and a large number of youths who are sent to jails, detention centers and group homes, according to a report released Tuesday.

The state inspector general's report said the Juvenile Probation Administration is still relying heavily on detention centers and other out-of-home placements for kids who run afoul of the law.

The 2013 law transferred the supervision of juvenile offenders from the Department of Health and Human Services to the administration office and set aside $14.5 million for juvenile services and a grant program to treat young criminal offenders. But despite the drop in youth crimes, the probation office has received $21.4 million in funding beyond the original expected costs, the report said.

"While no one should expect a perfect juvenile justice system only two years into a reform effort, it is reasonable to assume that there should be movement in the right direction," said Julie Rogers, the inspector general for Nebraska child welfare. "Unfortunately, there is some indication that juvenile justice reform is not on its intended track."

The inspector general's office said it has received complaints about youths on probation who were "inappropriately detained" for violating their probation, even if they posed no threat to public safety. Some were detained because of a lack of available placements, a parent's refusal to follow court orders or for cursing at adults, according to the report.

"This inappropriate use of detention is both costly to the state and harmful to youth," the report said.

The report also found that child welfare workers continue to have high caseloads, despite a 2012 law intended to ease their burden. Rogers said that encourages worker turnover and prevents children and families from getting the time and attention they need to succeed.

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Kathie Osterman said her agency recently hired more caseworkers, but that they're still in training.

"We continue to work on recruiting quality staff and reducing turnover," Osterman said.

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