Newsroom > DHHS News Release

For Immediate Release
June 6, 2016

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

Former Nebraska Wards Speak at Conference
about Involving Youth in Citizen Review Panels

Glendale, Ariz. – Three young adults who were state wards will speak Wednesday (6/8) at a national conference about their experiences on a Department of Health and Human Services citizen review panel concerning the child welfare system.

Raevin Bigelow, 22, of Lincoln, Rosetta Judd, 22, of McCook, and Lacey Combs, 20, of North Platte, are presenting strategies to engage youth in citizen review panels at the 15th Annual Citizen Review Panel Conference in Glendale, Ariz.

“Nebraska’s panel is unique because all members are former state wards,” said Connie Pfeifer, DHHS program specialist, who works with the panel. “We don’t know of any other panel like it in the nation and that’s what caught the eye of the conference organizers.”

She added that their experiences in the child welfare system are invaluable when reviewing DHHS policies and procedures and recommending changes that help current state wards. “They’re a good reminder that we work with people and not just policies,” Pfeifer said.

Cassy Blakely, assistant vice president of youth policy at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, said the panel submits annual recommendations on policies and procedures and DHHS must respond. The Foundation works with communities to develop local Project Everlast councils which provide members of the review panel from Omaha, Lincoln, Scottsbluff, North Platte, Grand Island and Fremont.

“Their work on the panel is a wonderful way to help these young adults see how our system works and how they can become fully involved,” Blakely said. “It’s rewarding to watch them grow to better understand their government as well as influence how it serves youth in the system.”

Judd said her role on the panel has brought her full circle. “I’m advocating for that part of the world that raised me. Now, I get to be a part of the rapid change.”
Bigelow added that her experience on the panel has broadened her growth. “When labels are put on you, your world becomes limited. We have stepped up and become more than our limits.”

As part of the panel’s work, they created a guide for foster parents about how to talk about respite care with children in a comfortable and collaborative way, she said. The panel also is working on a tip sheet for case managers about teaching independent living skills, and producing a training video about maintaining a youth’s family connections.

“Their work reflects their experiences while in the child welfare system for the benefit of the youth who currently are state wards,” Pfeifer said. “We’ve found their perceptions of our work beneficial so that our actions are sensitive to today’s state wards.”