LINCOLN–A bill that would require all Nebraska foster parents to complete sexual assault training was heard by the Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 7.
Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart introduced Legislative Bill 1041 in response to findings from a report that identified 50 verified victims of sexual abuse in Nebraska foster homes from July 2013 to October 2016.
The report by the Nebraska Office of Inspector General concluded that 27 of the children who were sexually abused were state wards or youth in residential placement, while the other 23 were in adoptive or guardian custody.
The report also found that 36 of the 50 children were abused by an adult in their foster home. The additional 11 children were abused by other youth, and three children were abused by both parents and youth.
“Child sexual abuse is generally understood to include everything from child rape and molestation, sexual touching, and coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act to exposure to pornography, voyeurism, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or Internet,” the report said.
Wishart, who has been a licensed foster parent for three years, said that while there is already a training system in place for foster parents, the report shows there is work to do to in preventing child sexual abuse in Nebraska.
LB 1041 would require additional, specific training on child sexual abuse that would include education on the effects of sexual abuse on children, how to appropriately set boundaries, minimizing the opportunity for sexual abuse to occur and identifying signs of sexual abuse.
Currently, foster parents must complete a 21-hour training class and extensive background checks to obtain a foster care license in Nebraska. However, training is waived for all relative and kinship placements, although it is encouraged by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Included in the training is a protocol for reporting sexual abuse, which requires calling the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline. However, there is currently no preventive training.
Julie Rogers, inspector general of Nebraska Child Welfare, said that the DHHS of Nebraska has rejected the recommendation of the program because it believes “the current system is adequate” as there is already a training required.
Rogers also said that while Nebraska’s training requirements are up to par nationally with other states’ requirements, sexual abuse is still a pertinent issue in foster homes. Rogers said that research shows that U.S.children living in households without either parent, including foster care, are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused than children living in a home with both parents.
Timothy Wempen, a former Nebraska foster youth, testified in support of the bill. Wempen said that he had been sexually abused during his time in foster care, but when he reported the abuse it was not taken seriously or reported to proper authorities, which caused him to act out. This resulted in him being placed in the juvenile justice system, which he said could’ve been prevented had his foster parents had better training.
“People don’t feel that they’re [sexual abuse allegations] true,” Wempen said. “Instead of looking into them, they just dismiss them.”
Becca Brune, who also testified at the Feb. 7 hearing on behalf of Nebraska Appleseed, said that she works with many children who are experiencing trauma from sexual abuse occurring in foster homes. Brune also said that while the $55,000 cost to implement this program may seem costly, it’s necessary.
“LB 1041 is an important step in ensuring our foster care system is one of zero tolerance for child sexual abuse,” Brune said.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.