Newsroom > DHHS News Release

For Immediate Release
August 1, 2016

Russ Reno Communications and Legislative Services, (office) 402-471-8287 or (cell) 402-450-7318, or 

Success of Revamped Lancaster County
Family Drug Court Merits National Presentation

Lincoln—Jamie Bahm, a Department of Health and Human Services child and family services specialist supervisor, and Judge Roger Heideman, Lancaster County Juvenile Court, spoke at the Child Welfare League of America national conference Aug. 1, in a joint presentation about infusion court that is more effective in obtaining permanency for children whose parents are involved in Family Drug Court. Also participating in the presentation was Jennie Cole-Mossman, co-director of the Nebraska Resource Project for Vulnerable Young Children.

Two years ago, after the number of families volunteering for Family Drug Court fell off, Heideman revamped the approach of Family Drug Court, by requiring families to participate in infusion court mandatory, and the results have caught the national eye. Infusion court includes the principles and practices of Family Drug Court, traditional juvenile court into one process and other courts focused on underlying problems for concerning behaviors.
“This collaboration on serving the best interests of the children of parents involved helps each partner do its job better,” said Doug Weinberg, Director of Children and Family Services. “Through infusion court, we’ve found that by establishing good working relationships on the team with one goal in mind, families have better results.”

“Typically, when children are removed from parents who struggle with drug and alcohol use, the case can become hindered by the goals of the family, the order from the court, and recommendations from prosecutors, child welfare workers, guardians ad litem, parents, law enforcement, attorneys and others,” Bahm said. “With this new approach, the parent-child relationship is stronger, parents are more likely to maintain sobriety and they are more likely to address their child’s trauma resulting in improved healing of the child.”

Those involved with the family use a team approach with a focus on relationships aimed at obtaining permanency for children who are removed from homes where parents struggle with drugs and/or alcohol use. Parents are considered the team leaders at the unique monthly family team meetings. Others at the table work as one to provide them the services they need to create a safe home environment for their children while discussing the parents’ progress, their challenges, any additional services they may need as well as accountability for their actions.
For DHHS, infusion court allows case managers to specialize through more training in working with families and drug and alcohol abuse. Bahm said specialization increases case managers’ effectiveness.

“Parents are more likely to feel that the process is fair, and that we’re all on the same page trying to help them get their children back into their care,” Bahm said. “It levels the playing field so parents have more of a say in how their case will proceed, and the team develops greater trust in each other.”
She said children in the child welfare system and separated from their parents become traumatized, “Uncertainty about their future causes anxiety which triggers trauma, and they fare better when they know what will happen in the future, whatever it is,” Bahm said.

“When the decision was made to move our Family Drug Court to a mandatory track, we did so to preserve services with a team we knew could provide improved outcomes for children, parents and families,” Heideman said. “The collaborative effort since the inception of this track has been nothing less than outstanding. The DHHS, it's administration, supervisor and case managers, Lancaster County Attorney, Legal Aid of Nebraska, the Nebraska Resource Project for Vulnerable Young Children, private attorneys, treatment providers and parents themselves have made this transition a successful one.”

“We started to focus more attention on parent-child relationships and young children,” Cole-Mossman said. “It has grown over the years due to the great partnership and extra work by all of the team members. It’s also taught us that collaboration is a lot more than a grant requirement. Through the partnerships and commitment of the court and DHHS, we have been able to create something truly cutting edge in Nebraska.”

Infusion courts are used elsewhere, but they are not that common. The team in Lincoln works with national experts and other jurisdictions to continuously improve their practices.
“While we are experiencing good success, more work needs to be done to make continued improvements with this track,” Heideman said.

Besides making the presentation, Judge Heideman will receive the National Collaborative Excellence Award for his work in spearheading these changes in Family Drug Court to more effectively help children and their parents.