A recent report on sexual abuse of state wards in Nebraska's child welfare system has prompted a Lincoln senator to propose better training for foster parents.
The training would be aimed at teaching those parents how to prevent and react to sexual abuse of children and young people, and relatives who serve as caregivers would not be allowed to opt out.
Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart proposed the training changes in a bill (LB1041) after reading a distressing report by the state's inspector general for child welfare, Julie Rogers, that showed 50 state wards or former wards were verified to be sexually abused over a three-year period (2013-16).
The report also reflected what Rogers and her staff called "problematic attitudes" among system professionals and caregivers toward child sexual abuse and children in the state's care.
Children reported that the abuse occurred in foster homes, adoptive homes or when they were under state guardianship. Some were in the juvenile justice system or in a home licensed by the state Department of Health and Human Services or at a Youth Residential Treatment Center.
Timothy Wempen, 19, testified at a hearing on the bill, in front of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, that when he was a foster child his sexual trauma at the hands of his mother's boyfriend was not addressed until six or seven years after he reported it.
Reports by children are sometimes dismissed, he said. Training would help foster parents and others take reports seriously, recognize signs of sexual abuse and react accordingly.
Someone at a group home he went to finally listened to him, he said, and he was referred for treatment.
Rogers' report said that in 14 of 37 cases in foster or adoptive homes her office reviewed, caregivers dismissed sexual abuse allegations from children as false, or failed to refer them to authorities. Adults are required by law to report allegations.
Training would include recognition of the risks children face with regard to sexual abuse, minimizing the opportunity for sexual abuse to occur, talking appropriately about boundaries with children, recognizing the signs of child sexual abuse, and reacting to any sign or disclosure appropriately.
"Child sexual abuse can haunt a survivor for their lifetime, increasing their risk of mental and physical health problems and involvement in risky behaviors, as well as negatively affecting their academic success and their lifetime earnings," Wishart said.
Foster parents already receive 21 hours of training to become licensed and 12 more to renew their licenses. But when children are placed with relatives, that training is encouraged, not required.
Some of that training addresses child abuse, but Wishart is proposing training that would be specific to sexual abuse, she said.
Rogers recommended specific sexual abuse prevention training in her report to the HHS, and that such training shouldn't be waived for relative caregivers. HHS accepted the majority of Rogers' recommendations but did not accept the recommendation for specific sexual abuse training, saying it already provided child abuse training for foster parents.