Newsroom > DHHS News Release

December 27, 2017

Jennifer N. Brantley, Communications and Legislative Services, 402-471-8287

Nebraska DHHS Works with the OIG in Response to Sexual Abuse Report; Committed to Helping People Live Better Lives


Lincoln – The Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare (OIG) released Wednesday a report assessing measures taken by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) to prevent and respond to the sexual abuse of youths in state care and in their permanent homes. DHHS was the source of initial reports provided to the OIG, responded to all additional requests for information, and actively participated in meetings with the OIG to provide feedback and interpretation of data and policies for the report.  The data provided included critical incident reports and related case files for the 27 state wards and 23 children who were in their permanent home (through adoption or guardianship and no longer had an active case with DHHS).    

“DHHS appreciates the thoughtful work of the Office of Inspector General. We have carefully reviewed the Inspector General’s report and looked specifically into the recommendations,” Matt Wallen, director of Children and Family Services (CFS), stated. “Of the 18 recommendations outlined in the OIG’s report, we are committed to incorporating 14 into our best practices, three of those accepted with modification. The remaining four rejected recommendations endorse policies, plans or assessments previously implemented by DHHS, and currently in operation. DHHS plans to continue to work cooperatively with the OIG, as we have in the past.”

Improving Child Abuse Reporting and Investigation Tactics.

One area of improvement identified by the OIG was the manner in which DHHS reports and/or screens for investigation some child sexual abuse allegations. DHHS carefully assesses risk of harm each time an intake is received, and has plans to reinforce current protocol. “When the Child Abuse Hotline receives a report of child abuse and/or neglect (including a report of suspected sexual abuse), a comprehensive review of the allegation is completed using the Structured Decision Making (SDM) model created by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD),” shared Wallen.

“SDM is used effectively to assess risk and safety for children.  The Department of Health and Human Services investigates those cases where abuse is related to a caregiver,” Wallen continued.  “If abuse or neglect is suspected by someone other than the caregiver, the report is referred to law enforcement for investigation. Child Advocacy Centers across the state, whose staff have training and expertise specific to sexual abuse, receive notice of every sexual abuse report and have the ability to contact the Hotline or law enforcement to recommend and discuss these intakes.”

Developing the Child Welfare Workforce.

The OIG’s report also suggested the child welfare workforce could better prevent or respond to the sexual abuse of those in the system. Currently, however, all members of DHHS’s child welfare team undergo rigorous sexual abuse training. In fact, the most recent Child and Family Services Review (CSFR) released just this year, lauded the strength of DHHS’s workforce training program.

In further demonstration of its continued commitment to adequate training and continuous improvement, DHHS was selected as one of eight sites to partner with the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD) and is working to implement a number of internal initiatives to strengthen their workforce and support the CFS team in the field. DHHS also works closely with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Center for Children, Families and the Law (CCFL) to provide extensive education to those team members who are part of our child welfare workforce. DHHS recently renewed its contract with the CCFL this year.  The passion, commitment and dedication of our case management team to protect children and preserve families is one of the best in the nation and does a remarkable job at fulfilling those objectives –protecting children and preserving families. 

Incorporating Additional Sexual Abuse Training.

Finally, the OIG highlighted its finding that out of home placements – both foster homes and residential facilities – were not equipped to prevent sexual abuse, calling for improvement regarding the oversight and standards for home placements. “Additional staff training that is planned, and the development of policies to address the timeliness of investigations and preparation of final reports, will result in improvement in this area,” Wallen stated. DHHS currently presents extensive information on sexual abuse and other types of abuse in foster and adoptive parent training, and has met all requirements to inspect, license, and investigate the 29 licensed child caring agencies in Nebraska.

Dedication to Continuous Improvement.

“I want to assure the public that we prioritize the safety of every youth in our care,” said Wallen. “While our most recent data shows that 99.83 percent (or less than 2.87 instances per 100,000 days in care) of children in our care are not abused, we are not satisfied when even one case of abuse occurs. We make every effort to prevent the abuse of children in our communities as well as in our care.”

These efforts include the successful implementation of various initiatives specifically designed to better serve the children in DHHS’s care, and address any concerns regarding workforce turnover.

Among these initiatives are:

  • Alternative Response connects families with less severe reports of child abuse/neglect, with the community supports and services they need to enhance the parent’s ability to keep their children safe and healthy.
  • Intensive Family Preservation services are delivered in the family’s home. These short-term and family-focused services are designed to keep children safe by assisting families in crisis improve parenting and family functioning.
  • Family-Focused Case Management provides intensive case management by alleviating barriers to family stability while working to self-sufficiency.

“We put our trust in our foster and adoptive parents to provide a loving and positive home,” Wallen concluded. “We are fortunate to have very committed and caring people who are helping children be their best.”