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These are the most recent local news articles:

Senator: Psych drugs might be over-prescribed for state wards

Tuesday, January 24th 2012

A 2010 study of 1,159 foster children in Nebraska showed 22.5 percent were taking psychiatric drugs.

The drugs prescribed were stimulants for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, antidepressants and antianxiety medications, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers — all powerful drugs with potentially serious side effects.

In this session, Omaha Sen. Gwen Howard has renewed her efforts with a bill (LB837) to examine policies and procedures for prescribing and administering those mental health and behavior modification drugs for state wards.

The 12-member task force that would be created would cost the state up to $3,000.

In December, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report highlighted the need for guidance in prescribing and administering the powerful drugs for foster children.

National awareness of the issue has increased in recent years, with congressional hearings and media attention in a number of states.

A 2011 study by the Georgia Supreme Court said the complexity of the drugs, and their long-term effects on children who still are rapidly growing, dictate caution and special expertise in prescribing for children — especially those whose parent is the state.

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Program could lead to child welfare changes

Monday, January 23rd 2012

A pilot program that focuses on the emotional needs of abused and neglected children is being implemented in Tribland and eventually could reshape the approach to child welfare in the state.

Permanency Quest will involve 20 select children involved in the Court-Appointed Special Advocates of South Central Nebraska program from the organization’s four-county area: Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster. CASA is an organization of volunteers who advocate for children in some abuse and neglect cases and follow them through the court system.

The model will be tested over the next five years, and information will be gathered about measurable outcomes with the children involved. Funding for the Permanency Quest program is provided by a five-year grant from the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.

If the pilot succeeds, the plan would be to widen the scope of the program to eventually cover the entire state.
The program will be based on the 3-5-7 Model developed by Darla Henry of Pennsylvania after 40 years of social work. The model or its elements have been introduced into the child welfare systems in California, Delaware, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Under the model, Henry said, the child welfare system eventually should see the need for fewer placements, the need for fewer days of care, and quicker movement toward reunification or adoption.

Henry explained the 3-5-7 Model during a seminar in Hastings earlier this week for caseworkers, state officials, lawyers, counselors, school representatives and others involved in the child welfare system.

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Firing fuels interest in dumping panel

Saturday, January 21st 2012

State Foster Care Review Board members could find themselves on the hot seat after removing its longtime director, Carol Stitt, on Friday.

A key state lawmaker said the board’s action fueled interest in a bill that would eliminate the board and make its agency an arm of the Legislature.

“I think a great number of us will be looking at (the) bill,” said State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, who is chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee.

Campbell said she heard from several senators Friday, including some who made the unusual request to testify at next week’s public hearing on the proposal.

Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, who introduced Legislative Bill 925, said several senators signed on as co-sponsors after the board’s decision to oust Stitt.

The measure would eliminate the volunteer board that now runs the review agency.

“We brought them into this world, and we can take them out,” Krist said.

Lawmakers created the agency in 1982 to oversee citizen reviews of children in the foster care system, monitor facilities that house children, collect information and make recommendations about the child welfare system.

Earlier Friday, review board members voted unanimously to end Stitt’s 29-year tenure as executive director.

The action took effect immediately, but Stitt will remain as a consultant through May 1 and will receive full salary and benefits through that time. The board also agreed to pay her health insurance for another 18 months.

Kathy Bigsby Moore, the retired head of Voices for Children of Nebraska, was named interim executive director of the review board.

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Chief Justice: Courts poised to help the elderly and children

Thursday, January 19th 2012

Nebraska’s court system is poised to help with efforts to further protect the state’s aging population and children who fall victim to abuse or neglect, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican told lawmakers on Thursday.

In his annual State of the Judiciary Address, Heavican praised lawmakers for passing a bill (LB157) last year to reform the state’s system for guardianships and conservatorships for the elderly.

“Your actions were both timely and far-sighted,” he said.

While the total population of the state is expected to grow 11 percent by 2030, the number of Nebraskans between the ages of 70 and 79 is expected to grow by more than 80 percent during that same time, Heavican said.

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Hearings coming for child welfare bills

Tuesday, January 17th 2012

The Legislature begins bill hearings Tuesday and among them are a list that would address child welfare reform — the issue identified by both the Legislature and Gov. Dave Heineman as a major focus for the 2012 session.

Seven bills have been introduced by the Health and Human Services Committee or its members. Other senators also have sponsored child welfare-related bills.

The Health and Human Services Committee put out a 400-page report in December that included 18 recommendations meant to guide the state in how reform, started in 2009, should proceed.

Major recommendations include transferring foster care case management back to the state from private providers in the southeastern and eastern service areas, and creating a Children’s Commission to oversee child welfare, a separate Department of Children’s Services and a position of inspector general to investigate state and private agencies that serve children.

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