About the Nebraska Court Improvement Project

About the Nebraska Court Improvement Project

In 1993, Congress passed the State Court Improvement Program (CIP) as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) which funded, among other things, States to conduct assessments of their judicial processes in juvenile cases and develop and implement a plan for system improvement.  The Nebraska Supreme Court contracted with UNL-Center on Children, Families and the Law (CCFL) to manage the Nebraska Court Improvement Project.  In 1995, the Nebraska CIP released an Assessment (with a Re-Assessment Report released in 2005).

In September 2005, Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hendry directed that the Nebraska CIP initiate a statewide implementation of best court practices based on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) Resource Guidelines through a statewide summit. The 2006 Nebraska Children's Summit Improving the Court System for Abuse/Neglect and Foster Care Children was held in Nebraska City, and was attended by over 200 stakeholders in the abuse/neglect court system.  By the end, team members had selected a new name for the project: Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative.

The Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative (TTEOC) was kicked off in 2006 with the creation of 25 multidisciplinary, judge-led teams that would work to identify local system issues and develop strategic plans to improve court processing in abuse and neglect cases in their communities.  Teams met regularly to address the issues identified in their plans.  Common issues included children's attendance at court hearings, availability of substance abuse services, adequacy of parenting time, use of mediation/facilitation, quality of court reports, among other things.  TTEOC staff provided technical assistance to local teams while work on policy changes on a statewide level related to barriers identified locally (projects include Parenting Time Guidelines, mediation protocols, a Caregiver Information Form, a Youth Court Questionnaire, standardized court order language).

In 2012, the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative was expanded to include a Juvenile Justice Court Improvement Project (JJCIP) through funding from the Office of Probation as part of LB 561.  The goals of the JJCIP are to assist implementing the juvenile justice reforms of LB 561 and improve the juvenile justice court and legal system, which includes improving legal representation, increasing family engagement and utilization of restorative justice processes, improving the timeliness and quality of court hearings and improving court data.

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Deb VanDyke-Ries joins the Court Improvement team as the Project Director. Deb brings more than 10 years’ experience working in juvenile court as Director and Volunteer Coordinator at CASA for Lancaster County as well as Interim Director for the Nebraska CASA Association. During her tenure at CASA, Deb was a member of the Lancaster County Through the Eyes of the Child team, 1184 team, National Adoption Day Committee and the Nebraska Supreme Commission on Children in the Court - Education sub-committee. As a CASA volunteer, Deb provided advocacy for nine children in four separate juvenile court cases.

Deb received a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Nebraska, minoring in Political Science. The University of Kansas is where she received her Master’s Degree in Social Work. Deb has been an adjunct professor of social work at Nebraska Wesleyan University and supervised numerous students from the University of Nebraska Lincoln, Nebraska Wesleyan University and Southeast Community College. Most recently she was a member of the SCC Advisory Board for Health and Human Services.

Deb and her husband, Paul, are the very proud parents of three children. As adoptive parents, they received the Angels in Adoption Award from Senator Chuck Hagel in 2008. When Deb is not attending kid’s activities, she enjoys reading, spending time outside gardening, camping, music and playing with dogs, Casey and Coco, and cat, Twist.    



Theresa Cusic joins the CIP team as project specialist focused on child welfare issues and working with several Through the Eyes of the Child teams. Theresa Cusic graduated from Creighton University in 2012 and earned her Juris Doctorate from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2017. Before joining the Court Improvement Project as a Project Specialist, Theresa was a staff attorney at Legal Aid of Nebraska, practicing in the Separate Juvenile Court of Lancaster County. Her caseload included representation of parents and children in abuse/neglect, delinquency, and status offense cases. In her free time Theresa enjoys being in the great outdoors - biking, hiking, and running.

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Mary Pat Coe, J.D., graduated from Creighton University School of Law in 1993.  Before coming to the Court Improvement Project Mary Pat practiced in the area of juvenile law for more than 18 years, representing parents and other family members in neglect and abuse proceedings and youth in delinquency matters.  She also served as a guardian ad litem for both parents and children in dependency proceedings. She is a founding member of the Guardian ad Litem Project, Inc.  



Traci Webber earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism/Mass Communications from Louisiana State University, minoring in History. Traci brings a number of years of graphic design and creative direction experience to the Court Improvement Project as the Design and Communications Coordinator. Traci’s professional background includes a number of years in the newspaper industry primarily in design, art direction, copy writing and editing. 

Traci and her wife, Isabel enjoy spending time with their four daughters. Traci’s favorite past times are travel, reading, music and cooking.


PROGRAM SPECIALIST - Stephanie Volkmer

Stephanie Volkmer joins the Court Improvement Project as the Project Coordinator. Stephanie brings over seven years’ experience in public service administration at the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles to the team. Stephanie is currently enrolled at Doane University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration.

Stephanie and her husband Ryan have two children. When not attending one of their many activities, Stephanie serves as the President of the Parent Teacher Organization at Pershing Elementary, and enjoys reading, cooking, and traveling.