About Us



In September 2005, Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hendry, the DHHS Director, the Nebraska State Court Administrator, the Nebraska Court Improvement Project Director and others attended a National Judicial Leadership Summit for the Protection of Children in order to improve court oversight of cases to reduce delays in order to ensure that children are placed safely and permanently in a timely manner. A Nebraska State Court Action Plan was created, with the first goal being statewide implementation of best court practices based on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) Resource Guidelines through a statewide summit.

The 2006 Nebraska Children's Summit Improving the Court System for Abuse/Neglect and Foster Care Children was held in Nebraska City, and was attended by over 200 stakeholders in the abuse/neglect court system, including then Chief Justice John Hendry, Chief Justice Designate Michael Heavican, Governor Dave Heineman, and local teams including all judges with juvenile court jurisdiction, DHHS Administrators, Supervisors and workers, parents’ attorneys, County Attorneys, Guardians ad Litem (GALs), CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and FCRB (Foster Care Review Board) members.

Several national and Nebraska speakers addressed pertinent abuse/neglect issues, such as family drug treatment courts, family group conferencing and mediation, reasonable efforts and Title IV-E, and the Resource Guidelines. The local teams were also able to meet at several points during the Summit to discuss their implementation of best practices.

By the end, team members had selected a new name for the project: Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative.



Under the leadership of Chief Justice Michael Heavican, the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative is a multidisciplinary network of local teams that work to improve systems processes. It creates a forum for local child welfare stakeholders to collaborate with each other in their efforts to improve issues in their communities’ child welfare court systems as well as communicate with other teams and stakeholders across the state to identify systemic barriers and work on solutions.

Federally funded by the Nebraska Court Improvement Project, the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative is comprised of over 25 local teams across Nebraska, each led by a lead judge. The local teams are guided by the Resource Guidelines published by the National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), which sets out best practice standards for the abuse/neglect court process, and by the Initiative priorities, which are selected by the teams at the statewide Children’s Summits. The current 3-year priorities are:

  1. Improve service delivery to the family - frontloaded, targeted to the issues and effective
  2. Improve our response to older youth in care
  3. Expedite quality evaluations and targeted treatment for substance-abusing parents

Each team selects its own projects and goals based on the needs of its community and court system. With the guidance of the Chief Justice and Project Chair, Initiative staff provide technical assistance to the local groups, distribute data reports, develop resources for the local teams, and work on a statewide basis to address concerns within the child protection court system. The Initiative also holds annual regional conferences, spring lecture series, clerk data training, mental health training and a statewide Children’s Summit every three years.

Roles of the Key Players

Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican is the leader of the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative. The Chief Justice will protect the vision of the Initiative and provide direction to its members to ensure that the goals and objectives continue to be pursued.

Project Chair Larry Gendler is a judge with juvenile court jurisdiction appointed by the Chief Justice. The project chair acts as primary advisor to the Chief Justice, and is the face of the Initiative to the public and other entities. The project chair is a consultant for local lead judges and teams and is the primary liaison with other organizations.

Each local team is led by a Lead Judge. The Lead Judge leads local progress and works with the project chair and other judges for support and consultation. A principle tenet of the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative is that Nebraska's judges must take an active leadership role in improving the court process in child protection cases. Judges have great ability to improve the lives of foster children through systems change and procedural improvements within their courts.

The Lead Judges are:

  • Hon. Curtis Maschman - 1st District Team
  • Hon. Bob O'Neal - Sarpy County Team and Otoe County Team
  • Hon. John Steinheider - Cass County Team
  • Hon. Linda Porter - Lancaster County Team
  • Hon. Wadie Thomas and Hon. Chris Kelly - Omaha Team
  • Hon. Patrick McDermott - 5th District - Team 1
  • Hon. Curtis Evans - 5th District - Team 2
  • Hon. Kenneth Vampola - 6th District - Team 1 (Fremont)
  • Hon. Kurt Rager - 6th District - Team 2 (S. Sioux City)
  • Hon. Ross Stoffer - 7th District Team
  • Hon. James Orr - 8th District - Team 1 (Valentine)
  • Hon. Alan Brodbeck - 8th District - Team 2 (O'Neill)
  • Hon. Tami Schendt - 8th District - Team 3 (Custer)
  • Hon. Philip Martin - 9th District - Hall County Team
  • Hon. Gerald Jorgensen - 9th District - Buffalo County Team
  • Hon. Michael Offner - 10th District - Team 1
  • Hon. Michael Burns - 10th District - Adams County
  • Hon. Bob Ide - 10th District - West End
  • Hon. Jeffrey Wightman - 11th District - Team 1(Lexington)
  • Hon. Edward Steenburg - 11th District - Team 2 (Ogallala)
  • Hon. Anne Paine - 11th District - Team 3 (Red Willow)
  • Hon. Kent Turnbull - 11th District - Team 4 (North Platte)
  • Hon. Russell Harford - 12th District - Team 1(northern Panhandle)
  • Hon. Randin Roland - 12th District - Team 2 (southern Panhandle)
  • Hon. James Worden - 12th District - Scottsbluff Team

Each local team has designated a team coordinator. The team coordinator manages the team by arranging meetings, preparing meeting agendas, and monitoring progress of team projects. The team coordinator maintains active communication with team members and works with state staff.

Local Teams

Over 25 multidisciplinary local teams across Nebraska meet regularly to address systemic issues in their child welfare court system. Each team is led by a Lead Judge and Team Coordinator, and is typically comprised of County Attorneys, parents’ attorneys and Guardians ad Litem, DHHS administrators, supervisors, and caseworkers, facilitators/mediators, CASA, Foster Care Review Board members, therapists, clerk magistrates, law enforcement, schools, youth and foster parents. The teams create their own action plans, which include projects and goals to improve the juvenile court system, and then meet regularly to ensure those goals are being accomplished.

In 2012, it was estimated that team members donated over 750 hours of their time working on issues as part of their local teams. Not only do teams meet regularly but many also host special events, such as the National Reunification Day or National Adoption Day, and participate in other systemic improvement activities. In addition to their collaboration as a local team, the teams also collaborate with state staff and other local teams statewide through conferences, trainings, data assessments and other activities.

Examples of Past Projects

A sample of local team projects:
  1. Emergency Placement Checklist for Law Enforcement – 1st District Team (Beatrice area)
    Due to the distance between many of our communities and the HHS intake workers homes creating significant delays in removals, the team developed a checklist/tool for law enforcement to use to immediately start gathering information that the intake worker will need to assess placement and placement options.
  2. Expansion of Family Treatment Drug Courts – 4th District Team (Omaha)
    Three Omaha juvenile courts having Family Treatment Drug Courts (Judges Thomas, Crnkovich and Johnson) have increased the number of families being served. There is quicker access to substance abuse evaluations and some parents and children are residing together at Family Works while the parent undergoes residential drug treatment. A therapeutic component focused on the needs of infants and toddlers has been added through Project Safe Start, which includes relationship therapy between the parent and young child (Child-Parent Psychotherapy) and follow-up on referrals to the Early Development Network.
  3. The Living Center (TLC) for aged-out youth – 10th District Team – Adams County
    The Hastings team has secured almost $1 million in grant funding and has another $350,000 in progress to develop a housing model for former foster youth ages 18-24 who have aged out of care. An apartment complex in Hastings will be renovated to provide 12 apartments that will house 11 youth and one residential manager. Independent living skills, such as money management, health, knowledge of community resources, interpersonal skills, and job assistance, will be offered.
  4. “Field of Dreams” Blended Housing Model – 12th District – Team 2 (Sidney area)
    The Sidney area team developed a housing model using an abandoned former army barracks where families live independently in an apartment with daily monitoring and support while participating in intensive treatment for substance use disorders and other behavioral health disorders. This model keeps families together in a treatment and recovery community that also provides comprehensive, individualized services to address all the families’ needs, especially for effective parenting, self-sufficiency, and the social/emotional well-being of the children and youth.
  5. Leading Community Response to Issues of Poverty – 10th District Team – West End (Holdrege area)
    The Holdrege area team is part of a community approach to addressing chronic issues affecting families in the child welfare system. As part of this effort, the team sponsored a two-day “Bridges out of Poverty” training. Other activities include regular meetings with community organizations to identify resources and develop new services, and the development of a community resource guide with projected regular updates.

Read the 2012 Team Summaries:

A sample of statewide Initiative projects:

  1. Development of and training on JUSTICE data system standardized coding manual for abuse/neglect cases
  2. Co-development of standardized protocols and statewide expansion of the following types of Alternative Dispute Resolution processes:
    a. Initial Removal Pre-Hearing Conferences
    b. 12-month Permanency Pre-Hearing Conferences
    c. TPR Pre-Hearing Conference
  3. Developed standardized court order forms approved for federal IV-E compliance
  4. Development of Caregiver Information Form for foster parents and other caregivers to submit to the court
  5. Co-development with the Nebraska Foster Youth Council of the Youth Court Questionnaire to provide youth with an alternative to speaking to a judge in open court
  6. Provided micro-grants to teams for small community projects, such as the development of a children’s area in the courthouse

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  1. Improve service delivery to the family - frontloaded, targeted to the issues and effective
  2. Improve our response to older youth in care
  3. Expedite quality evaluations and targeted treatment for substance-abusing parents