- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 27, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Lancaster County officials and the state of Nebraska are discussing a way to provide intensive behavioral health services to juvenile offenders who need the help, the head of the state Health and Human Services Department said.

Department CEO Danette Smith made the pronouncement at a Lincoln news conference Monday while discussing her department’s efforts to better serve the teenage girls sent to the Geneva center that she emptied last week. Two dozen female juvenile offenders were moved to the boys center in Kearney after department officials learned the girls’ buildings in Geneva had fire hazards, holes in walls and mold and water damage.

Staffers are discussing leasing a 20-bed portion at the Lancaster County Youth Services Center, Smith said. Discussions with the county are still preliminary, but she said the center could house the youths there, providing education, case management, probation and therapeutic recreation and transition services.

The department is talking to various groups about addressing the needs of juvenile offenders, Smith said.

“The department has an obligation to the youth we serve, and we are committed to making the necessary changes to provide an environment that is safe, supportive and gives youth the opportunity to thrive as they make the transition into adulthood,” she said.



Regarding the troubled Geneva center, Smith said work has begun to fix the LaFlesche Cottage, a building that has been awaiting sewer line repairs since spring, and to assess what could be done to the other three residential buildings to make them usable.

The campus in rural, central Nebraska serves as a rehabilitation center for girls ages 14-18 who have broken the law and been rejected by other private treatment facilities. The problems came to a head two weeks ago, when one girl damaged the sprinkler system in one of the four residential cottages.

The girls moved to the boys center in Kearney have mental health services and case management support available there, as well as physicians who can manage medications, Smith said.

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