Newsroom > DHHS News Release

For Immediate Release
May 20, 2016

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

Working Closely with Parents Effective in Helping
Youth with Intellectual, Developmental Disabilities

DHHS Presents at Statewide Conference

Kearney – By working closely with the parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Nebraska’s juvenile justice system can effectively help their children, said Tricia Kingsley, program specialist with the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), at the annual conference of the Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association concluding today (5/20).

More than 400 are attending the conference in Kearney, including DHHS and Probation employees, educators, county attorneys, guardians ad litem, juvenile judges, law enforcement and service providers.

Kingsley, who is raising two children with autism spectrum disorders, said parents are the experts of their children and have a better understanding of what approaches work best when addressing the needs of their children.

Also, parents can be at various stages of acceptance of their children’s needs, and it’s important to ask a lot of questions to learn how to best work with them.

“We must be sensitive to parents and empathetic,” she said. “Parents grieve that their children won’t be able to do what other children do throughout their lives. A recognition of their feelings opens the door so you can get to know the child better through their parents.”

It’s also important to be familiar with resources for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities to direct them to assistance, including such organizations as Arc, Autism Family Network, Disability Rights of Nebraska, People First of Nebraska, Developmental Disabilities Division in the Department of Health and Human Services, and many others.

In the end, she said, a goal should be to empower parents to make decisions for their child.

Schools, Kingsley said, prepare children with intellectual and developmental disabilities with skills they’ll use the rest of their lives by gauging where they will be developmentally as an adult. For that reason, schools must be a catalyst to services by evaluating children regularly through a multidisciplinary team report and each child’s individualized education program.

“In the juvenile justice system, we have a tendency to criminalize the behavior resulting from a disability, rather than trying to understand what’s involved in a disability,” she said. “While juvenile justice most often seeks rehabilitation to return youth to where they were before committing a crime, habilitation seeks to improve a youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities through repetitive teaching of skills necessary to be as independent as the individual can possibly be in the community.”

Kingsley said a common misconception is that a youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities can control their behaviors, but that’s not always the case. Establishing a safety plan for youth in the juvenile justice system may be necessary as some level of supervision could be required to protect others, because the youth may not be able to distinguish right from wrong.