Inspector General reports 50 youths sexually abused in state care
POSTED BY: Channel 8 Eyewitness News
Lincoln, Nebraska – Today, the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare (OIG) released a report after undertaking an extensive investigation into whether the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was taking adequate steps to prevent and respond to sexual abuse of youth in state care.
The investigation, publicly announced in December 2016, was based on a steady flow of reports to the OIG detailing alleged sexual abuse of vulnerable youth who had current or former involvement in Nebraska’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems. A final report of investigation was issued to DHHS in October 2017.
“My office thoroughly reviewed hundreds of files and documents, conducted over 50 interviews, and made three site visits in the course of this investigation,” said Julie L. Rogers, Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare. “Ultimately, we identified concerning deficiencies in the child welfare system’s ability to prevent and respond to the sexual abuse of children in its care.”
Among the OIG’s findings were:
? Some child sexual abuse allegations were not appropriately reported or screened for investigation. Some reports of child sexual abuse were never investigated. Others were poorly investigated or left incomplete for long periods of time, in some cases, up to a few years.
? The child welfare workforce was not consistently prepared to prevent or respond to sexual abuse of those in the system. This was in part due to high turnover and high workload, and in part due to a lack of training, protocol, and worker comfort confronting sexual abuse.
? Out of home placements – both foster homes and residential facilities – were not equipped to prevent sexual abuse. Oversight and standards for these placements need improvement.
Inspector General Rogers cited underlying attitudes by caregivers and system professionals as a factor in many of the errors and issues the OIG discovered, “My office found cases where children who reported sexual abuse were ignored and dismissed. System professionals never took appropriate action in these situations.” Said Rogers, “Adults incorrectly assumed children were reporting sexual abuse as a form of misbehavior or “acting out” by a troubled child. In some cases the OIG reviewed, the failure to take appropriate action subjected children to ongoing sexual abuse.”
As part of its investigation, the OIG identified and examined the cases of 50 children who were victims of substantiated sexual abuse. Twenty-seven youth were abused while they were state wards or placed in a residential facility licensed by DHHS. 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 during a roughly three year time period from July 2013 to October 2016.
The report also makes 18 recommendations to DHHS to address shortcomings uncovered during the investigation. The recommendations range from improvements to processes at the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline to Public Health’s residential facility licensing operations. DHHS has accepted 11 of the recommendations. “My Office looks forward to hearing about DHHS’s implementation of the accepted recommendations in the coming months. I will also continue to monitor and voice concerns about the six recommendations that DHHS did not accept.”
The report also highlights seven items that require action across departments, branches of government, and Nebraska communities. “Preventing and responding to sexual abuse of children is not, and cannot be, the responsibility of DHHS alone – it is a community problem, which will need solutions and action from many in our communities,” said Inspector General Rogers. “The OIG continues to receive new reports of children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems who have been sexually abused. It is my hope that this report, the implementation of recommendations by DHHS, and the action of Nebraskans will help make needed improvements so that our children are better protected from sexual abuse.”
Created in 2012, the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare is a subdivision of the Ombudsman’s Office and housed within the legislative branch of government. The OIG provides accountability for the child welfare and juvenile justice systems through independent investigations, inquiries and reviews, resulting in system improvement. Learn more at oig.legislature.ne.gov