Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Nebraska

Date:

Making The Appointment

Citation: Rev. Stat. §§ 43-272; 43-3710

The court, on its own motion or upon application of a party to the proceedings, shall appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the juvenile if the parent is indifferent to the interests of the juvenile or in any proceeding in which the juvenile is abused, neglected, or abandoned pursuant to the provisions of § 43-247(3)(a).

A GAL shall be appointed when a child is removed from his or her surroundings pursuant to § 43-248(2) or (3), 43-250(2), or 43-251. If a county has a GAL division created under § 23-3901, the court shall appoint the GAL division, unless a conflict of interest exists or the court determines that an appointment outside of the GAL division would be more appropriate to serve the child's best interests. If removal has not occurred, a GAL shall be appointed at the commencement of all cases brought under § 43-247(3)(a) or (7) and § 28-707.

A judge may appoint a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer in any proceeding when, in the opinion of the judge, a child who may be affected by such proceeding requires services that a volunteer can provide, and the court finds that the appointment is in the best interests of the child.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Rev. Stat. §§ 43-3710; 43-3711

A CASA volunteer shall be appointed pursuant to a court order. The court order shall specify the volunteer as a friend of the court acting on the authority of the judge. The volunteer acting as a friend of the court may offer as evidence a written report with recommendations consistent with the best interests of the child, subject to all pertinent objections.

A memorandum of understanding between a court and a CASA program is required in any county where a program is established and shall set forth the roles and responsibilities of the CASA volunteer.

The volunteer's appointment shall conclude as follows:

  • When the court's jurisdiction over the child terminates
  • Upon discharge by the court on its own motion
  • With the approval of the court, at the request of the program director of the CASA program to which the volunteer is assigned
  • Upon successful motion of a party to the action for the removal of the volunteer because the party believes the volunteer has acted inappropriately, is unqualified, or is unsuitable for the appointment

A CASA volunteer shall not do any of the following:

  • Accept any compensation for the duties and responsibilities of his or her appointment
  • Have any association that creates a conflict of interest with his or her duties
  • Be related to any party or attorney involved in a case
  • Be employed in a position that could result in a conflict of interest or give rise to the appearance of a conflict
  • Use the position to seek or accept gifts or special privileges

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Rev. Stat. § 43-3708; 43-3709; Neb. Ct. R. § 4-401

All CASA volunteers shall participate fully in preservice training, including, but not limited to, instruction on recognizing child abuse and neglect, cultural awareness, socioeconomic issues, child development, the juvenile court process, permanency planning, volunteer roles and responsibilities, advocacy, information gathering, and documentation. Volunteers shall be required to participate in observation of court proceedings prior to appointment. Each CASA program shall provide a minimum of 10 hours of inservice training per year to volunteers.

Any prospective CASA volunteer shall meet the following minimum qualifications:

  • Be at least age 21 and have demonstrated an interest in children and their welfare
  • Be willing to commit to the court for a minimum of 1 year of service to a child
  • Complete an application, including required background information
  • Participate in a screening interview and required training

For the required background screening, the program director shall obtain the following information regarding a volunteer applicant:

  • A check of the applicant's criminal history record information maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • A check of his or her record with the central registry of child protection cases
  • A check of his or her driving record
  • At least three references of people who will attest to the applicant's character, judgment, and suitability for the position of a CASA volunteer

If the applicant has lived in Nebraska for less than 12 months, the program director shall obtain the records required above from all other jurisdictions in which the applicant has lived during the preceding year.

In court rules: To be appointed as a GAL, an attorney must complete 6 hours of specialized training provided by the Nebraska Supreme Court Attorney Services Division. To maintain eligibility to serve as a GAL, an attorney must complete 3 hours of specialized training per year.

Specialized training sessions shall provide training, information, and education regarding the role, duties, and responsibilities of a GAL, including, but not be limited to, the following areas:

  • Overview of the juvenile court system
  • Statutory duties and authority of a GAL, including any performance standards adopted by the Nebraska Supreme Court, especially regarding the following:
    • Requirements of the GAL report
    • Instructions for preparing a GAL report
    • Ethical issues and the role of a GAL
  • Issues that impact or impair the functioning of families, including, but not limited to, the following:
    • The dynamics of child abuse and neglect
    • Substance abuse and mental health issues
    • Poverty, employment, and housing
    • Domestic violence
    • Physical, psychological, and psychiatric health issues
    • Education
    • Visitation and demonstration of parental skills
  • Training in the techniques of gathering relevant information and resources, including the following:
    • Interviewing skills, regarding both children and adults
    • How to obtain and interpret reports from other professionals and providers
    • Inquiry into appropriateness and stability of juveniles' placement
  • Psychological aspects of children, including the following:
    • Child development issues
    • Appropriate parental-child relationships, bonding, attachment, and effects of separation and loss
    • Age-appropriate visitation, with particular emphasis on the needs and vulnerabilities of children age 0€“5
  • Permanency planning, including family preservation, reunification, adoption, guardianship, and another permanent planned living arrangement
  • Cultural, ethnic diversity, and gender issues
  • Relevant State and Federal statutes and case law
  • Indian Child Welfare Act
  • Legal advocacy, mediation, and negotiation skills

Specific Duties

Citation: Rev. Stat. §§ 43-272.01; 43-3712

The duties of the GAL include the following:

  • Shall be present at all hearings unless expressly excused by the court
  • Is not appointed to defend the parents or other custodian of the child, but shall defend the legal and social interests of the child
  • May at any time move the court to provide medical or psychological treatment or evaluation
  • Shall make every reasonable effort to become familiar with the needs of the child, including consulting with the child in his or her respective placement within 2 weeks after the appointment and once every 6 months thereafter
  • May present evidence and witnesses and cross-examine witnesses at all evidentiary hearings
  • Shall be responsible for making written reports and recommendations to the court at every dispositional, review, or permanency planning hearing regarding:
    • The temporary and permanent placement of the child
    • The type and number of contacts with the child
    • The type and number of contacts with other individuals
    • Compliance with the Nebraska Strengthening Families Act
    • Any further relevant information on a form prepared by the supreme court
  • Shall consider other information that is warranted by the nature and circumstances of a particular case
  • May file a petition in the juvenile court on behalf of the juvenile

The duties of a CASA include the following:

  • Conduct an independent examination regarding the best interests of the child that will provide factual information to the court regarding the child and the child's family
  • Determine whether an appropriate permanency plan has been created for the child, whether appropriate services are being provided to the child and the child's family, and whether the treatment plan is progressing in a timely manner
  • With the support and supervision of the CASA program staff, make recommendations consistent with the best interests of the child regarding placement, visitation, and appropriate services for the child and the child's family
  • Prepare a written report to be distributed to the court and the parties to the proceeding
  • Monitor the case to ensure that the child's essential needs are being met
  • Make every effort to attend all hearings, meetings, and any other proceeding concerning the case

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Rev. Stat. §§ 43-272.01(5); 43-273

The GAL may be compensated on a per-case appointment system or pursuant to a system of multicase contracts or may be employed by a GAL division created pursuant to § 23-3901. If a county creates a GAL division, GAL appointments shall be made first from the GAL division, unless a conflict exists or the court determines that an appointment outside of the GAL division would be more appropriate to serve the child's best interests. Regardless of the method of compensation, billing hours and expenses for court-appointed GAL services shall be submitted to the court for approval and shall be recorded on a written, itemized billing statement signed by the attorney responsible for the case. Billing hours and expenses for GAL services rendered under a contract for such services shall be submitted to the entity with whom the GAL contracts in the form and manner prescribed by such entity for approval. Case time for GAL services shall be scrupulously accounted for by the attorney responsible for the case. Additionally, in the case of a multilawyer firm or organization retained for GAL services, the name of the attorney or attorneys assigned to each GAL case shall be recorded.

Counsel and GALs appointed outside of the GAL division shall apply to the court before which the proceedings were had for fees for services performed. The court, upon hearing the application, shall fix reasonable fees. The county board of the county wherein the proceedings were had shall allow the account, bill, or claim presented by any attorney or GAL for services performed under § 43-272 in the amount determined by the court. No such account, bill, or claim shall be allowed by the county board until the amount thereof shall have been determined by the court.