Saturday, January 28, 2012

LB 821 Poses Great Danger to the Family and Civil Liberties

On Sunday, Jan. 1, there was an article in the Omaha World-Herald about legislation that will be introduced during the current session of the Nebraska Unicameral.

 Questions about child welfare to dominate Nebraska Legislature -

It reads:
"Nebraska's 2012 legislative session looks to be the year of the child.

"During the next four months, lawmakers will wrestle with key questions about the future of child welfare and juvenile justice in the state.

"How they answer...those questions will shape the lives of abused and neglected Nebraska children and youthful troublemakers."

But how they answer those questions will also shape the lives of regular, ordinary children too, especially since Nebraska has been showing an unsettling willingness to draw the parameters wider and wider for what constitutes an "abused" or "neglected" child or "youthful troublemaker." Nebraska has a serious problem with breaking up families – it does so at the second highest rate in the nation. And it has recently begun removing children from their families for what the state deems to be poor school attendance, under the new “truancy” law.

It’s good that Nebraska is working to address the serious problems in its child welfare system, and some positive proposals are being advanced this session. However, two of the proposals mentioned in the article, and brought together in one bill, LB 821, are deeply concerning. These proposals would only intensify the problems the system now faces.

LB 821 proposes to create a 26-person Children's Commission, and a brand new state children's agency. (LB 821 - ) The bill recognizes the major problems with Nebraska's current child welfare system, but it proposes to remedy these problems by creating more government!

In addition to the simple paradox of creating more government to solve a problem created by government, I believe that these two legislative proposals present a threat to every Nebraska family in another way.  These two proposals would establish in Nebraska a framework that could implement the concepts contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an overreaching document which the U.S. Congress has refused to ratify for 22 years.

The UN CRC was written in 1989. It aims to bring the oversight for every child's welfare under the jurisdiction of the state. You'll find that many good ideas are expressed in its wording (, but in practice, it replaces the judgment of parents with those of unelected state bureaucrats. It views the family with suspicion, and attempts to regulate the affairs of every family in accordance with the values (or, some might say, lack of values) of these unelected bureaucrats. It is a serious threat to the fundamental rights of parents, and thereby, a serious threat to children.

One of the features of the UN CRC at the international level is the institution of an 18-member unelected committee, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is made up of members considered to be “experts” in child welfare. This body directs countries on how to implement the CRC’s agenda. In essence, it tells countries what they feel countries need to do to improve children’s welfare, and how to treat its citizens in accordance. It would take pages to catalogue the offenses committed by this committee against free societies, family integrity, and children’s welfare.

Now back to Nebraska. LB 821 creates a huge, unelected Children’s Commission, which “shall consist of twenty-six members representing the three branches of government and a wide array of public and private stakeholders." Not only does this echo the UN structure by creating a committee with the power of oversight and direction, it creates a commission in which all three branches of government are brought together. This is dangerous!

The protections afforded by our system of government are dependent on these branches staying separate. Bringing them together in such a fashion creates a situation in which judges will be ruling on things they've already reached consensus on with legislators and the governor; and legislators will be passing laws that they've already reached consensus on with the judges who might hear challenges to those laws. And these decisions will be about what’s best for your children.

Commissions such as this almost inevitably move the social and political climate in a direction which accepts the collective “society” as better at determining what is best for a child, than are the parents of that child. When 26 people with this kind of power sit around a table together and agree about what’s best for children, it will be very dangerous for people who have other ideas.

The agency created by LB 821, the Department of Children’s Services, is directed to be a "child-focused" agency. A child welfare system that proposes to focus on children will miss the mark. A healthy child welfare system must be “family-focused.” A “child-focused” system creates a culture in which the state employees tend to believe they always know what’s best for the children who come into their system because, once again, of the collective consensus, which they are charged to implement.

 A “family-focused” system recognizes that virtually all parents love their children, that children’s psychological and often physical well-being are dependent upon being with their parents – even when there are problems – and that when there are serious problems in a family that require intervention, whether that family is wealthy or poor, well-educated or ill-educated, lives a healthy lifestyle or doesn’t, parents just need support in learning skills to care for the child they love.

Furthermore, creating this children’s agency will increase the danger to all Nebraska families as the agency seeks to do what government bodies always seek to do: increase power, and the funds that come with it. The “child welfare” system in this country is already a $1 billion-plus industry.  A state children’s agency is likely to put more families in danger as it seeks to compete with other state agencies for that power and those funds.

Other sections which create serious concerns about the effects this bill would have are as follows (with commentary in red and using page and line numbers, rather than sections of the bill, to make it easier to locate):

pg. 4, line 16 - "An independent entity specializing in medicaid analysis shall conduct a cross-system analysis of current services and funding sources to...provide information which will allow the replacement of state general funds for services to at-risk children and youth with federal funds, with the goal of expanding the funding base for such services while reducing overall state General Fund expenditures on such services." They want to find ways to make Nebraska more dependent on federal dollars for its child welfare services.

pg. 7, line 1 - "The executive committee of the Nebraska Children's Commission is created. The executive committee shall consist of the members of the commission listed in subdivisions (2)(a) through (e) of this section. The executive committee shall advise the commission with respect to the interaction among the three branches of government related to child welfare programs and services. The members of the executive committee shall each represent his or her own branch of government, and no member of the executive committee shall participate in actions that could be deemed to be the exercise of the duties and prerogatives of another branch of government or that improperly delegate the powers and duties of any branch of government to another branch of government." They recognize the potential for problems in this area, and they think a line in the law will prevent it from happening.

pg. 7, line 18 - "Such networks shall permit community collaboration to strengthen the continuum of services available to child welfare agencies and to provide resources for persons outside the child protection system."  They want to provide ways to draw kids into state services that are not in any need.

pg. 8, line 14 - "Provision of leadership, by the commission and the Department of Children's Services, in intentional strategies to support high-quality evidence-based prevention and early intervention services that reduce risk and enhance protection for children." This may mean appropriate services for people who are already in the system, but this is far from clear. It could very well mean that since there are many children whose family life doesn’t justify a need for state intervention, the state needs to come up with more ways to peg children as "at-risk" to get them into the system.

“Prevention” and “early intervention” rely on profiling to create categories of “pre-crime.” When applied to those who have done nothing wrong, and used to justify government involvement, it becomes preemptive intervention – “you might have a problem,” “something could happen.” An example of Nebraska already engaging in this type of “pre-filing” is the new truancy law, which operates from the premise that a child “may” become a delinquent if he misses 20 days of school, and therefore the state is justified in creating a juvenile court file on him and dragging his family through an intrusive “diversion” process.   This is not something that people and families in a free society have to worry about. Passing this bill, and creating a system with this potential, would be a giant leap away from a free society, and huge danger to families.

pg. 9, line 3 - "The Department of Health and Human Services shall implement a process to obtain and utilize data analytics, business intelligence, or similar information technology for accessing real time data in order to foster better decision making with the goal of better outcomes relating to services to children and families." The biggest problems with this provision are the broad, nebulous nature of it, and the glaring question, “Why?” Why does HHS want this power? HHS is in the business of providing social services to those who need them. It should not be in the business of monitoring all Nebraskans. In light of the provision mentioned above (pg. 8, line 14), we have the potential for a system that watches people’s behavior and allows the state to pull them in although no crime has ever been committed.

There is much to be concerned about in this bill. Should these proposals pass legislative vote and become law, I believe the agenda of the UN CRC would be well on its way to being implemented in Nebraska, through the apparatus created by this bill.

The solution to Nebraska's child welfare crisis does not lie in creating more layers of government to oversee and intervene in families' lives. Instead, it lies in strengthening - through legislation and the culture it fosters - respect for the bond between parents and children, and respect for the natural rights of parents; in lies in expanding and emphasizing child welfare systems that make in-home care top priority; and it lies in scaling back - not expanding - the government apparatus that has the authority to make life-altering decisions for Nebraska's families.

The Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature will hold the public hearing on this bill Wednesday, February 1 at 1:30, in room 1510 of the Capitol. Please contact the Health and Human Services Committee and your senator, and ask them to oppose this bill and work on a better solution to Nebraska's child welfare system crisis.

Contact Info for HSS Committee

Contact info for Senators

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