By Paul Hammel
LINCOLN — Two studies commissioned by the Nebraska Legislature suggest that the state’s judicial system for juveniles is broken and must be changed to properly address cases of abuse and neglect, youth crime and truancy.
Reports on the studies, released Thursday at a public hearing, cited problems such as inadequately trained and overworked attorneys, lack of attorney-child consultation, and a lack of mental health services for juveniles.
One study indicated that the state’s system of appointing lawyers as guardians ad litem to advocate for a child’s best interests in abuse and neglect cases was a “cruel fraud” because the attorneys often don’t meet with their clients and end up serving as a “rubber stamp” rather than an advocate.
“It makes it look like there is a voice for Nebraska’s children in the court process, but in fact, that voice is mute,” concluded a report by the National Association of Counsel for Children, a child advocacy group based in Aurora, Colo.