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Through The Eyes Of The Child Initiative

Through The Eyes of the Child Initiative

Working to Improve the Lives of Nebraska's Children

A Letter From the Chief Justice

Chief Justice Michael Heavican
Chief Justice Michael Heavican

Dear Judges, Team Members and the Community,

Over one and a half years ago I participated in the Nebraska Children’s Summit in Nebraska City. I was present for the creation of the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative, a collaborative effort between all participants involved in the abuse/neglect court system. Since that time I have heard countless anecdotes of the important, beneficial work that local teams and the Initiative are doing on behalf of Nebraska’s children. Practices have been put into place to schedule court hearings more rapidly, resulting in abused and neglected children being placed in permanent, safe, and stable homes as quickly as possible.

Earlier this year, I gave the 2008 State of the Judiciary address to the Nebraska Legislature. As the well-being of our State’s children is one of my primary concerns, the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative was prominently highlighted. Below is an excerpt from my address:

The first initiative [of the court and judicial branch] involves abused and neglected children whose cases are in the juvenile court system. Many of these children are wards of the state and are in foster care.

As you are aware, Nebraska has an inordinate number of such children. Those children have been a special focus of the courts in 2007. Former Chief Justice John Hendry convened the Supreme Court Commission on Children in the Courts in January 2005. Chief Justice Hendry’s vision and leadership resulted in the first ever Nebraska Children’s Summit in September 2006. Participants included most of the state’s juvenile court judges, many child welfare workers from the Department of Health and Human Services, members of the Foster Care Review Board, prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, and other parties interested in Nebraska’s juvenile court system.

I had the privilege of attending that summit after I was appointed Chief Justice, but before I was sworn in. The summit launched the “Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative.?  Summit participants voted to name the project “Through the Eyes of the Child? so that all participants in abuse-and-neglect cases would be mindful of the child’s perspective throughout such proceedings.

The Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative established 25 community-based court teams around the State of Nebraska. Each team is led by a judge of either a county or juvenile court.

The goal of each team is to develop the best way to handle abuse and neglect cases -- including cases involving the termination of parental rights -- in their particular courts. All of the teams are working hard to place abused and neglected children in permanent, safe, and stable homes as quickly as possible. At the same time, the teams strive to preserve fairness and the rights of all parties to these proceedings.

The Supreme Court has placed an emphasis on meeting national and state guidelines for case progression. Almost all of the local committees have come to the conclusion that one of the most important ways to quickly address permanency in these cases is by front-loading the system.

. . . Front-loading has given us the ability, early in the litigation process, to appoint counsel for all parties involved and to obtain assistance for parents suffering from mental health or substance abuse problems. This front-loading feature appears to be paying great dividends.

Dodge County provides a good illustration of the Initiative’s effectiveness. Since the Initiative began, the number of children in foster care in Dodge County has dropped 50 percent. This drop is a direct result of collaboration by judges in Dodge County, workers from the Department of Health and Human Services, and members of the local bar.

I would like to commend those involved in the Initiative and reinforce my commitment to the improvement of the abuse/neglect court system in Nebraska.  The past year and a half has brought many positive changes to the way juvenile cases are handled in our courts. It is my hope and expectation that the next year and a half will prove to be just as productive in improving the way our courts handle abuse and neglect cases so that we may meet our goals of permanency, safety, and well-being for all participants in the juvenile court system.

See the full 2008 State of the Judiciary

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Chief Justice Michael Heavican