CASA / GAL Community:   State & Local ProgramsJudges' PageAdvocacy ResourcesMember Network Board Resources

Court Improvement Project in Nebraska

Kelli HauptmanKelli Hauptman, Staff Attorney, Nebraska Court Improvement Project

Summary: The court processing improvements made as a result of the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative have helped the Nebraska Court Improvement Project to systemically address problems in a consistent way and to ensure that the most vital needs of court stakeholders are being addressed.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Since the beginning of the Court Improvement Project (CIP) in Nebraska, it has been recognized that local communities are in the best position to identify the issues and barriers being encountered in the child welfare court system. In 2006, this recognition was formalized through the creation of the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative, with the assistance of CIP funding. Led by the chief justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, the initiative had the same focus as the Court Improvement Project: to improve court processing in child welfare cases. However, the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative was able to provide a structure for this change to be driven locally and directed with state-level support.

Now composed of almost 30 teams across Nebraska, the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative is a blend of local action and state-level efforts to effect positive systemic change; it has also provided the Court Improvement Project with a way to integrate its funding streams. This integration has allowed more comprehensive systemic change for the Court Improvement Project for two reasons: (1) court stakeholders across Nebraska have become committed to similar goals, and (2) the inclusion of local communities in systemic improvements has aided the speed of and ability to change.

Since the beginning of the initiative, the overall goal has been to improve court processing in abuse and neglect cases. Over the past four years, this has taken form through many different projects. The majority of teams addressed these issues in their own communities in the following ways:

  • Implementing facilitated pre-hearing conferences prior to the initial removal protective custody hearing
  • Improving youth attendance at court hearings
  • Putting a focus on infants and toddlers in the court system

At the Nebraska Children’s Summit in 2009, all local team members statewide voted on three priorities that would be the focus of the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative over the upcoming year. This identification of priorities has allowed the initiative and its teams to form a common direction and focus. Training at regional conferences, lecture series and other forums is now strategically connected to addressing the priorities selected by the local teams. On a quarterly basis, coordinators from each of the local teams identify barriers being faced in their communities. Those issues are addressed collaboratively through meetings and then filtered out to local teams.

The improvement of data collection in Nebraska has also been focused through the activities of the local teams, with efforts being made to improve the consistency of data collection among the 93 county court systems. As a way to encourage better data entry, special emphasis has been placed on local teams’ needs to have quality data that can inform them of the outcomes of their efforts. Currently, CIP staff members provide a yearly, individualized report to each team that compares their  local data to state data. Because teams continue to have concerns about the accuracy of data, CIP teams are now working with the members of local teams who are doing data entry and with those responsible for data system development at the state level to ensure better data collection and reporting.

These court processing improvements made through the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative have helped the Nebraska Court Improvement Project to systemically address problems in a consistent way and to ensure that the most vital needs of court stakeholders are being addressed.

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
This Web site is funded in part through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice. Neither the US Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this Web site (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).