The Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday it was the source of initial sexual abuse reports provided to Inspector General of Child Welfare Julie Rogers, and it responded to all additional requests for information, and actively participated in meetings to provide feedback and interpretation of data and policies for the report, according to HHS spokeswoman Jennifer Brantley.

The department assesses risk of harm each time an intake is received, and has plans to reinforce current protocol, said Matt Wallen, HHS division of children and family services director.

When the child abuse hotline receives a report of abuse and/or neglect, including a report of suspected sexual abuse, a comprehensive review of the allegation is completed using the structured decision-making model created by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Wallen said.

Structured decision making is used to assess risk and safety for children. HHS investigates cases where abuse is related to a caregiver, Wallen said. If abuse or neglect is suspected by someone other than the caregiver, the report is referred to law enforcement.

Child Advocacy Centers across the state, whose staff have training and expertise specific to sexual abuse, receive notice of every sexual abuse report and can contact the hotline or law enforcement to recommend and discuss the cases.

Rogers' report, released Wednesday, said the child welfare workforce could better prevent or respond to sexual abuse. Wallen said all members of the child welfare team have rigorous sexual abuse training. This year's Child and Family Services Review lauded the department's workforce training program, he said. 

HHS has been selected one of eight sites to partner with the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development and is working to strengthen its workforce and support the children and family services team in the field, Wallen said. It works closely with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Center for Children, Families and the Law to provide education to child welfare workers.

"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," Wallen said.

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The inspector general highlighted that foster homes and residential facilities were not equipped to prevent sexual abuse, and called for improvement of oversight and standards for home placements.

Additional staff training that is planned, and development of policies to address the timeliness of investigations and preparation of final reports, will result in improvement in this area, Wallen said.

The department provides extensive information on sexual abuse and other types of abuse in foster and adoptive parent training, he said, and has met all requirements to inspect, license, and investigate the 29 licensed child caring agencies in Nebraska. 

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

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State government reporter

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

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