Nebraska Legislature

There’s a controversy brewing in Nebraska over changes to state policies that have led to much less drug testing of parents and children in child welfare abuse and neglect case investigations.

Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, who introduced an interim legislative study that recently was the subject of a public hearing, said she’s concerned because it seems judges, foster parents, providers and others were not informed of the protocol change by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, and that the protocols appeared to be changed last year — basically in secret.

The new protocol limits drug testing of parents and children to tests that are court-ordered. The concern is that child advocates have told the senator that the new policy appears to give parents days to prepare for drug tests and visits from HHS case workers, and the means to pass a home inspection and interview.

If that’s the case, then it’s a legitimate cause for concern.

Visit with law enforcement officers in Madison County or elsewhere. Have a general conversation with HHS case workers. Speak with those who work in the judicial system across the state.

Chances are, they’ll all have more than a few stories about the variety of ways both men and women try to scam the drug testing system. They’ll go to almost any length to avoid a positive test result.

The best way to counter those efforts are random and surprise drug tests where little or no advance notice is given. But if the new state HHS policies hamper that tactic, it’s certainly reasonable to assume that more false test readings will result.

Lancaster County Juvenile Judge Roger Heideman said judges learned of the new policy in the spring of 2018 as case workers began to testify in court about what they could and couldn’t do as a result of the new HHS policy.

With drug testing, he said, a court can help ensure adherence to a drug-treatment plan for parents. “That’s what’s at the heart of this, is how do we help these parents with what’s going to be a lifelong issue for them,” he said.

Amber Pelan, a program director for youth services in Saunders County, told senators that home visits and interviews don’t always reveal the true impact of drug and alcohol use. Frequently, they don’t show what’s happening between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. when a parent is coming down off a drug high.

“If we’re not able to test exposure it just makes it difficult,” she said in regard to her support for being able to order drug tests.

We’re not saying that drug tests are the sole answer. As Steve Greene, deputy director of the HHS division of children and families, told senators, drug testing can be time-consuming and costly and appear punitive.

But we do believe drug tests play an important role in protecting the safety of children. Any policy that could make it more difficult to provide that protection should be questioned.

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