Nebraska's probation administrator reiterated Tuesday that her office has been vigilant in reporting and evaluating adverse incidents, and is constantly improving its fledgling juvenile justice program.

That's despite reports from Julie Rogers, Nebraska's inspector general for child welfare, that say the office has been unresponsive to recommendations from her independent oversight efforts. 

Rogers put out her 90-page annual report in mid-September, and was critical of some of Probation's actions regarding, in particular, the death of a youth in its program.

Probation took exception to the report, and the Judicial Branch put out a statement -- a collective view, according to Probation Administrator Ellen Fabian Brokofsky -- saying judges, courts and probation offices work in the real world and make difficult decisions and, as such, have light years more experience than anyone in the Office of the Inspector General. And no credibility should be given to the report, whatsoever. 

Brokofsky; Lancaster County Juvenile Court Judge Roger Heideman; Jeanne Brandner, deputy probation administrator of juvenile services; and Deputy Administrator Gene Cotter met with reporters Tuesday to further discuss the report.

"When a report comes out blasting and accusing and discrediting an entity without factual data in two cases that are three years old, a trend cannot be determined," Brokofsky said of Rogers' critique. "There is not a researcher in this state or the United States who would say that." 

The accusatory tone and placing of blame has no place in this kind of review, she said. 

Some agencies and child advocates had reacted negatively to the statement from the Judicial Branch.

Juliet Summers, policy coordinator for Voices for Children in Nebraska, said the death of a child in the care of the state is a tragedy and should create an urgency in all stakeholders to take any steps necessary to ensure it is never repeated. Responding formally to recommendations can only improve outcomes for the state’s youth, she said.

Brokofsky said Probation would never minimize the seriousness of the deaths in the cases Rogers' reported on, but the inspector general's job is to look at trends, and to enable honest courageous discussions around bigger issues. It is not to hone in on an individual case and cast blame. 

"If I had a magic wand, there would be a more insightful view of the issues, and recommendations that were informed and viewed as important to the people that work every day with the population," she said of the role of the inspector general. 

The three branches of government should find ways to communicate and collaborate, she said. But each branch should not have oversight over the other branches. 

The Office of Inspector General was created by the Legislature to provide increased accountability and oversight of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and to assist in improving system operations. It investigates child deaths, serious injuries, misconduct, poor performance and violations of policies, regulations and laws. 

"The (office of inspector general) takes this obligation, along with its mandate to recommend changes and improvements, very seriously," Rogers said in her report. 

Brokofsky said investigations of processes and policies in general require more than looking at two individual cases, she said.

"You don't look at one here and one here and say this is a trend, or this is a concern," she said.  

The report went into detail on the suicide of a 17-year-old that had been placed by the Probation office on electronic monitoring and tracking, house arrest, restricted contact with friends and a ban on driving. 

Rogers was critical of a number of ways the case was handled by Probation, and made nine recommendations.

Probation officials said they disagreed with Rogers' facts and findings, and consequently with her recommendations.  

Rogers was critical of Probation for accepting none of the recommendations, and for being unresponsive to the inspector general's reports. 

Brandner said Probation did respond. 

"Our message to her was, 'We take every incident very seriously,'" she said.

They said they looked through the reports and the recommendations on cases reported to Probation in June 2016 and January 2017. They determined whether help was needed from other collaborators, and if changes in policy or practice were necessary, she said.

But because they didn't agree with the facts as Rogers presented them, they could not accept the recommendations. They were not required to formally respond to Rogers, she said. 

Heideman said that recommendations indirectly have been implemented, through ongoing changes in legislation, policies, practices and reform efforts.  

"Not directly in response to recommendations, but just as a continuation of reform efforts," he said. 

Heideman said Probation does outstanding work and has provided appropriate services to families and kids after youths were transferred from the Department of Health and Human Services.

At a time when cases could be expected to increase, the number of kids under supervision continues to decrease, youth residential center commitments are going down and out-of-home placements are decreasing, he said. 

Brokofsky said she does not want to see this disagreement characterized as an us-versus-them situation. Probation would be open to sitting down and discussing the report with Rogers, she said. 

The juvenile justice program is a work in progress and positively affecting the lives of youths and families, she said. 

"We're changing every day."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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