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Nebraska bill aims to keep siblings together

It's hard enough to lose your parents—losing your siblings in a bureaucratic maze of oversights shouldn't happen at the same time.

That's the basic idea behind Legislative Bill 411, which was introduced to the Nebraska senate by Senator Kate Bolz.

Laws currently in place already require state workers to try to place siblings going into foster care or adoptive homes together. If that's not possible, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is supposed to see that the siblings are able to visit or interact on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, the current law is weak and often ignored. A study of cases reviewed by the lawmaker's office indicates that only 1/3 of siblings are kept together when placed in foster care. Out of the 2/3 who aren't, only 41 percent have regular contact with their siblings. Another 20 percent have contact with only some of their siblings.

Bill 411 seeks to remedy the situation with the following provisions:

-- It would require children to be placed with their siblings, even if they didn't previously know each other. For example, this would affect children who have older siblings already in foster care and those with half-siblings that they don't know.

-- Welfare caseworkers would now be required to file reports with explanations of the efforts taken to place siblings together and to facilitate visitations.

-- Children would be given the right to intervene in a sibling's case and ask for joint placement or visitation. This is a significant change from how the old laws work.

Currently, foster parents who have wanted to take in and even adopt the siblings of a child they already have in their care have been met with a legal obstacle: If the DHHS doesn't agree, the parents and siblings have no legal right to take the issue to court. The current law allows only guardian ad litems, county attorneys, birth parents, and DHHS representatives to file motions and speak in court.

If you're seeking to adopt a child you have in your care as a foster child, or want more information about what you can do to find your foster or adopted child's siblings, consider speaking with a family law attorney today.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, "Nebraska legislators hear testimony on bill aimed at keeping siblings in foster care together," Martha Stoddard, Feb. 25, 2017

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