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Rain Feature, 7.21

Lincoln, NEB. - 7/21/2019 - The Nebraska State Capitol is reflected in a puddle on Sunday, July 21, 2019. EMILY HANEY, Journal Star

Conditions reported by girls at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Geneva and confirmed by state officials were the result of problems that boiled over into a safety crisis.

That pot, however, had been simmering for some time.

Many of the concerns that forced the teens’ relocation to a similar campus in Kearney centered on the physical space – water damage, mold, exposed wiring, etc. Fixing a building is easy, but the more vital repairs involve harm that isn’t necessarily visible.

Reconfiguring a culture that prompted allegations of inappropriate solitary confinement, overmedication and inadequate rehabilitative programming, among others, prove the work needed to improve Geneva is far from mere physical construction.

Credit DHHS and the quartet of legislators who made an unannounced visit to the site a couple weeks ago – they took swift, decisive action to remove the girls from this situation once its magnitude became evident. While moving them to the analogous facility in Kearney for boys is only a short-term Band-Aid, it provides the time needed to retool all aspects of YRTC Geneva.

As the needs of teens placed in the rehabilitation and treatment centers have evolved, the facilities have failed to keep pace. DHHS Director Dannette Smith told media at a press conference Monday that it’s now time to transform their role.

The youth assigned to these centers have some of the greatest needs and face some of the most severe challenges of any teens in Nebraska. Many suffer from a wide variety of mental or behavioral health conditions that require intensive interventions to prepare them for life as adults.

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Of all people, they especially mustn’t be allowed to fall through the cracks.

Though the Geneva facility falls under the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services, the causes of critical problems mirror a different state agency: the Department of Correctional Services.

A facility in a small town, largely out of sight and mind of most Nebraskans. A shortage of critical programming to prepare residents for re-entry into society at large. A revolving door of staff at a thankless, but critical, job in a specialized facility.

Sound familiar? Fortunately, Nebraska’s elected and appointed officials are already offering solutions.

Two legislative studies regarding services at Geneva and Kearney were proposed by the Nebraska Legislature this spring. A bipartisan group of senators has called for an in-depth investigation and scheduled an interim hearing. State officials are considering leasing space at the Lancaster County Youth Services Center in south Lincoln for boys and girls in need of more intensive programs.

These options mark a step toward ensuring a crisis of this nature never again rears its ugly head.

The young Nebraskans in these facilities need the proper programming and safe environment to succeed going forward – something they lacked in Geneva.

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