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With break extending to Jan. 8, families with students faced with juggling act

The Christmas presents have been opened, the New Year is almost upon us — and the seasonal balancing act for parents is well underway.

Eight-year-old Jabari Faubel is enjoying some needed downtime at home, the place his parents run their freight-brokerage business, which means his downtime conflicts with his parents getting actual work done.

“It’s always a struggle,” said his mom, Emily Faubel. “I think that’s the thing that’s really hard for me about Christmas break. It’s so needed for kids and I’m so happy Lincoln Public Schools blocks out time for kids. But so many parents work nontraditional schedules. It’s kind of a balancing act.”

The LPS winter break is between eight to 11 weekdays each year, depending on a number of factors. This year’s break is 10 weekdays, and because of the way the calendar falls — both Christmas and New Year’s are on Mondays — it means kids don't return to school until Jan. 8.

Over the past decade, LPS has scheduled a 10-weekday winter break eight times, but having one of the full weeks off after New Year’s is a bit of a rarity.

“It does feel like an awful long break because of the way it fell,” Emily Faubel said. “I was thinking ‘Oh, we have a long time left. I need to call and see what the Y pool hours are.”

LPS considers a number of factors when setting school calendars, including whether to bring kids back for a shortened week, said John Neal, assistant to the superintendent.

Starting a new semester means a short week is less disruptive for teachers than at the end of the semester, but in surveys, many parents say they’d prefer a full week off so they can factor in the weekends for travel purposes, Neal said.

Calendar planners also have to make sure the week-long spring break starts on a Monday and quarters are evenly divided. 

Bottom line: This year, coming back Jan. 8 worked out best.

“In the end, the committee chose to go with the longer winter break to avoid that shortened week,” Neal said.

The committee always debates the child care challenges working families face and travel plans others must juggle, he said.

“That’s one thing we go back and forth with,” he said. “It’s one of our toughest decisions.”

Child care is challenging for Kim Frey’s daughter and Wednesday, her husband was spending his day off with his two grandchildren.

“She struggles every time the school has off,” Frey said of her daughter. “It’s not just about having the time to find someone, it’s finding someone affordable.”

Wednesday, it was grandpa, who had a little time off work and put a bathroom renovation project on hold to shoot Nerf guns and get out the building blocks for his 9-year-old granddaughter and 6-year-old grandson.

Cooper YMCA in southwest Lincoln gets “tons” of kids over winter break, said Executive Director Tammy Poe, many in middle and high school who expend some energy in the gym, especially when the temperatures dip as low as they are this week. The YMCA also offers child care programs.

The Faubels try to find things for Jabari to do out of the house, yet still give him time to hang out in his jammies at home.

Emily Faubel likes the Children’s Museum programs because they offer fun activities and parents can sign up for just a day or two.

“Child care is expensive,” she said. “It’s nice not to have to commit to a whole week.”

Sara Gilliam, who has 8- and 3-year-old sons, likes the time off — but faces the same balancing act.

“It’s a chance to nest with my kids and just slow down, something we rarely do during the hustle and bustle of the school year,” she said. “I also believe that school in 2017 is challenging and very focused on academic achievement, and that kids truly do need decompression time to play and sleep and snuggle.”

That said, Gilliam’s 8-year-old was going stir-crazy before the sun set on Christmas Day. He's now signed up for skating lessons and a tennis day camp. 

Nearly all the elementary after-school programs at LPS offer child care during the holidays, and some of the schools combine their efforts over the break, said Nola Derby-Bennett, the Community Learning Center coordinator.

Bethani Proffitt’s husband works from home a few days a week and made sure he was home over break to care for their three children, ages 10, 6 and 5. The youngest will be in day care for some of the time.

While it’s challenging for her husband to work from home with the kids there, she appreciates the long break. This weekend they’ll be traveling to Kansas to spend time with extended family and if school were back in session, that would complicate those plans, she said.

For Faubel — who also has a teenage son and a daughter in college — the balancing act sometimes means she feels like she can’t give her full attention to anything. 

But having an extended break from nightly homework and packing backpacks for the next morning is worth it.

“Hands-down any stress it brings, I wouldn’t want to give it up,” she said.

Journal Star File photo 

LINCOLN, NEB - 7/1/1972 - British Fleet with trainer Jack Van Berg on July 1, 1972. Journal Star File phoO

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Inspector general: 50 victims of sex abuse verified in 3 years in Nebraska child welfare, juvenile justice systems

A nearly yearlong investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children and youth in Nebraska's child welfare and juvenile justice systems showed 50 verified victims in a recent three-year period, the state's inspector general for child welfare reported Wednesday. 

It also showed attitudes toward sexual abuse of youth in state care that concerned Inspector General Julie Rogers and her staff, including "problematic attitudes" among system professionals and caregivers toward child sexual abuse and children in the state's care. 

“I want to assure the public that we prioritize the safety of every youth in our care,” said Matt Wallen, director of Children and Family Services. “While our most recent data shows that 99.83 percent ... 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.”

Rogers said the investigation started last year with the accumulation of 36 sexual abuse reports since July 2013. The goal was to discover whether adequate steps were being taken by the Department of Health and Human Services to prevent and respond to abuse of youth in the state’s care. 

But when she and others dug into the reports, and asked for more data, they ended up with 50 cases, even after weeding the 36 original cases because some were not state wards or former state wards. 

"That was surprising to us," she said. "All of these kids had been abused and neglected or in juvenile justice. ... And then they're abused and neglected while the state is their parent."

Some children reported the abuse occurred in a foster home, in an adoptive home or when they were under state guardianship. Some were in the juvenile justice system or in a home licensed by the department or at a Youth Residential Treatment Center. 

Among the 50 abused children and youth in the report, 27 were state wards and youth in residential placements and 23 were in adoptive or guardian homes. They ranged in age from 4 to 18 when abuse was disclosed.

In each case, the abuse was reported to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline. The investigation also discovered cases beyond the 50 that were either screened out incorrectly, not investigated properly and so not substantiated. Others they just couldn't gather the needed evidence. 

Rogers said estimates show about 38 percent of child victims disclose sexual abuse, some years later, but others not at all. Research shows only 4 to 8 percent of disclosures are false.

Child sexual abuse generally includes everything from rape to molestation, sexual touching and coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act. It includes exposure to pornography, voyeurism and sexual talk by phone or internet. 

Sen. Merv Riepe, chairman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, gave approval for Rogers to release the report to the public. Riepe said it was "extremely important" that it be made public, because the only way to solve a problem is to talk about it. 

"It will be a top priority for all of us," he said. 

The state must have zero-tolerance on the issue of sexual assault, he said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that 99 percent of children in the state's custody get good and safe care. But even one case is not acceptable.

The department has been receptive to the recommendations made by the inspector general, he said. What needs to be done is being done.  

During those three years covered by the investigation, there were 1,284 substantiated victims of child sexual abuse statewide, according to DHHS. The agency does not track how many of those children were involved in the child welfare system, Rogers said, but research shows youth in the system are at higher risk than the population at large. 

Among the 50 abused children and youth in the report, 36 were abused by adults, 11 by other youth and three by both, Rogers said. Half of them were sexually abused by caregivers — foster and adoptive parents, guardians or facility staff. All were known to the children and had established relationships with them. 

The cases involved sexual assault by fathers, foster brothers, foster fathers, a foster mother, adoptive fathers, other state wards, uncles, unrelated older men and women, older brothers, grandfathers, group home workers and a therapist. 

Some of the youths were developmentally disabled or had mental illness.

"I feel like the biggest thing is the attitude about sexual abuse," Rogers said. 

Caregivers and professionals at times dismissed or never reported disclosures, Rogers said, because they assumed troubled children were lying or “acting out.” Inaction after concerns were reported left some children exposed to continuing abuse. 

"They (caregivers and professionals) just have this harmful attitude about sexual abuse," Rogers said. 

In some cases, disclosures were assumed to be a recollection of sexual abuse that occurred in the past, but then never fully investigated, she said. For some youth in the juvenile justice system, disclosures were treated as another example of the child breaking rules, defying authority, seeking attention or causing trouble. 

Some children and youth were blamed by caregivers and system professionals for causing the sexual abuse they suffered, or their reports were minimized, the report said. 

Rogers said a number of adults and system professionals did not report allegations to proper authorities even though the law requires it. Also, some calls to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline were screened out, preventing investigations and leaving children vulnerable to ongoing abuse.

The investigation discovered instances in which hotline workers incorrectly determined youth sexually abusing other youth did not meet the definition of child sexual abuse, the report said. 

The attitudes contributed to errors and issues that left the system unable to effectively prevent and respond to abuse of youth in its care, she said. 

When the state becomes the parent to a child, how does a caseworker talk to that young person about sexual abuse, secrets and what's private, and finding trusted adults?

"People need to know that this happens and we should be able to talk to kids about it in a developmentally appropriate way," Rogers said. "It's very tricky." 

The office of inspector general called for the department to foster a culture of zero-tolerance toward child sexual abuse. 

The impact of such abuse can be lifelong, Rogers' report said, with a heightened risk for physical and mental health diagnoses, academic problems, risky behaviors, and a possible negative impacts on lifetime earnings. 

The inspector general's office made 18 recommendations to the DHHS. The department accepted 14 of those, it said. 

“Preventing and responding to sexual abuse of children is not, and cannot be, the responsibility of DHHS alone. It is a community problem, which will need solutions and action from many in our communities,” Rogers said.

She hopes the report and recommendations to DHHS, in addition to the action of Nebraskans, will help make needed improvements so that children are better protected, she said. 

“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,” Wallen said. 

Of the 18 recommendations in the report, the department is committed to incorporating 14 into its best practices, three with modifications, Wallen said. Of the remaining four rejected recommendations, one requires compliance with standards not appropriate for child-caring agencies, he said, and the other three endorse policies, plans or assessments previously implemented by DHHS, and in operation.

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

Journal Star file photo