Report says better suicide-prevention training needed for those involved in child welfare system

By: - July 25, 2023 2:55 pm

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LINCOLN — A new state watchdog report says there’s a lack of suicide awareness and prevention training for those working in the Nebraska child welfare system.

The Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare, in its report, recommended that because of a higher risk of suicide among youths involved in the welfare system, “consistent training” and policies addressing suicide prevention should be adopted for caseworkers and foster parents.

The division should also join the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and enlist help from the state’s Division of Behavioral Health, the report said. 

‘Lots of resources available’

“There’s a lot of resources available. Let’s share those and leverage those,” said Jennifer Carter, the inspector general.

Her report, released Tuesday, looked at suicides of three teens that occurred between December 2018 and December 2022. The three teens, ages 11-16, were all involved in some way with the state’s Division of Children & Family Services.

The report concluded that while the actions of the division and caseworkers did not “contribute” to the teens taking their lives, better support and consistent training of service providers and foster families were needed in the area of suicide awareness and prevention.

For instance, the report noted, foster parents are not required to receive suicide awareness training, and the division lacks a suicide-prevention policy or plan.

Higher risk of attempted suicide

That is particularly concerning, Carter wrote, because youths who have been made state wards and have been placed in foster care are three times more likely to attempt suicide.

Youths involved in the system in any way, because they have experienced abuse or family trauma, have a 24% increased likelihood of attempting suicide, the report said.

Child welfare staff and foster parents are in “an especially unique position to prevent suicide” because of their engagement with youths in the system, the report said.

A spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said the agency accepted all six of the inspector general’s recommendations and is finishing a work plan to implement them.

“Improving mental health services for Nebraska’s youth is a top priority,” said spokesman Jeff Powell.

He added that if anyone, including a youth involved in the foster care system, is experiencing suicidal ideation, or if a family member or friend has concerns for a loved one, they should call, chat or text 988, the state’s suicide hotline.

The Office of the Inspector General of Child Welfare was created by the Nebraska Legislature to increase oversight and accountability in the system.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.