Nebraska Families Collaborative Blog

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Mindland Voices, Omaha World-HeraldDave-4298
August 23, 2017

As a social worker and adoptive parent, I am often asked about the foster care system, foster kids and adoption. Is “The System” as terrible as what people hear about in the news?

I invariably start my answer with, “It’s complicated.”

I strongly believe that prevention is paramount to the safety, health and well-being of every child. In a perfect world, abuse and neglect wouldn’t exist, and there would be no need for foster care or child welfare systems. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so we must begin with the reality that some families need help.

About 5,000 children a year go through the child welfare system in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, with about 1,500 kids in foster care on any given day. Ninety-two percent of local foster kids are living in family-based care, and of these, 61 percent are living with relatives or adults who are known and loved by them.

While improvements have occurred within Nebraska’s child welfare system, it is still far from perfect. Children of color are removed from their families at significantly higher rates than Caucasian children, with Native Americans and African-Americans being the most over-represented groups in proportion to the general population.

About 25 percent of kids get “stuck” in foster care for two years or longer. The longer they linger in care, the greater their risk of developing emotional, developmental and health challenges. While most kids in foster care are safe, there are adult predators who target some for such crimes as human trafficking.

Even if a perfect foster care system could be created, it would still be traumatic for the children and families who go through it. There is no painless way of separating children from their families.

Foster kids and their families find themselves involuntarily flung into a system that expects them to change, even when it is often the system that needs to change to better meet their needs. At times, some professionals experience burnout and “toxic stress” that impairs their ability to empathize and numbs them to the painful process that kids and families are experiencing.

Most foster families and professionals are well-intentioned people, but unfortunately there is a small percentage of adults who violate the trust placed in them, and these tragedies, whether child deaths or horrific abuse, are heartbreaking when they occur.


The actions of a few cast a negative shadow over all foster parents and child welfare professionals, making it even more challenging to find people willing to take up those vital roles.

This year, Project Everlast, an initiative committed to providing resources and support to those “aging out” of the foster care system, partnered with the Rose Theater and nationally known performer and activist Daniel Beaty as part of a community engagement series to address the complex issues of the foster care system. Beaty facilitated workshops with current and former foster youths, foster parents and service workers to tell their stories and share their experiences with the foster care system.

The stories they shared revealed the challenges faced within the system by both youths and adults and the long-term effects that foster care can have on a person’s life. The transcripts from these workshops were used to create a script for a play, which will be performed Friday through Sunday by a professional cast of actors at the Rose Theater. Complimentary tickets are still available through Vic Gutman & Associates. Contact Laura at 402-345-5401, ext. 109 to reserve seats.

I remain optimistic about our ability to move Nebraska’s child welfare system to one that will both protect children and strengthen families. We must design systems of care that decrease the frequency of trauma inflicted when children are removed and isolated from the people and communities they love most.

My hope is that we will continue to work toward building a system that keeps kids safe and provides hope and healing for all of Nebraska’s children and families.

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Douglas and Sarpy Counties account for a huge portion of the total child welfare cases in Nebraska — just under half. These complex cases — more than 5,000 annually in the two counties — involve vulnerable children facing serious conditions at home.

In many instances, children are removed from home for reasons including neglect, parental drug use or physical abuse.

Read more...

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Midland Voices, Omaha World-HeraldKathy
April 18, 2017

The writer is a longtime children’s advocate, former foster parent and founder of Voices for Children in Nebraska. She serves on the board of the Nebraska Families Collaborative.

In March, the Nebraska Children’s Commission announced the release of the Nebraska Child Welfare Blueprint Report, authored by ChildFocus, a national consulting group with expertise in child welfare.

The report provided a 15-year child welfare historical timeline of progress and setbacks, as well as recommendations about what Nebraska could do to strengthen its system of care, based on interviews with child welfare stakeholders.

As a lifelong advocate for children and families, I was heartened by the positive developments the report highlighted, especially the collaborative efforts of the Nebraska Legislature, the judicial branch, the executive branch and the private/community sector to implement a series of reforms. This is an example of “Nebraska nice,” where stakeholders come together with the purpose of improving outcomes for children and families and allowing time for new initiatives to produce positive results.

The Blueprint Report noted that while not all initiatives were successful at first, they often resulted in positive changes later as a result of stakeholder engagement and collaboration.

For example, when Nebraska passed the Safe Haven bill in 2007, the new law unintentionally created a crisis as struggling parents began abandoning their kids to the child welfare system.

While it took time to address this crisis, many positive changes emerged, most notably the public recognition that Nebraska needed to do a better job of supporting its families.

Much work remains, but some positive outcomes included the creation of the Nebraska Family Helpline and Right Turn as part of an overall plan to better assist and support families.

In 2009, Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services launched an initiative to move care coordination and case management services to private “lead agencies.” While I have long supported the concept of public-private partnerships, I did not support this initiative. It was launched without adequate planning, funding, time or stakeholder support to successfully result in such a large statewide system change.

I feared there would be many challenges for kids and families due to the systemic crisis I thought would occur. Unfortunately, many of those fears came true.

However, those challenges prompted stakeholders to work together to address the needs that came to light, in much the same way as what happened as a result of the Safe Haven law.

All of Nebraska’s stakeholders, particularly in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, came together to learn from past mistakes. They began building a better and more dependable child welfare system for kids and families, with a greater focus on achieving long-term family stability.

As a result, we saw the state’s public-private hybrid child welfare system achieve all six of the federal performance measures in 2016; a significant improvement in foster parent reimbursement rates; and adequate funding levels for child welfare services for the first time in the state’s history.

In addition, the Nebraska Children’s Commission and the Child Welfare Office of the Inspector General were created to increase stakeholder collaboration, planning and accountability in the child welfare system.

Nebraska’s child welfare system is still far from perfect, and many challenges remain that will require careful planning, adequate public funding and effective action. But the Blueprint Report gives us reason to be optimistic, and I am encouraged for the future of our families.

As Nebraska’s many child and family care organizations and agencies continue to work together for the good of all kids, there is nothing to prevent our state from being the best place to grow up for all kids.

Nebrask Child Welfare Blueprint Report - March 2017

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Advanced Education

Working with children and families in the child welfare system requires a highly competent and skilled workforce. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), a qualified and stable child welfare workforce is the foundation of child welfare service delivery. Nebraska Families Collaborative agrees, so we focus on hiring professionals who have college degrees in social work or similar studies to serve as our front line staff. We call them Family Permanency Specialists.

Each day, our Family Permanency Specialists (a.k.a. case managers) face critical decisions about the lives of vulnerable children and youths while working in stressful environments. Their day-to-day work with children and families spans a multitude of tasks, from conducting in-home visits to documenting case notes to giving testimony in court. Most importantly, they need to see the big picture with each family--identifying their strengths, building a strong relationship, advocating for the child(ren)'s best interest, and helping connect them to community supports and services that will help them become a stronger, healthier family. At times our Family Permanency Specialist have to tackle really difficult situations, like when a parent's rights are terminated. During those times especially, our staff have to adeptly manage what is often a highly emotional situation.

Like many other organizations who rely on skilled social workers, Nebraska Families Collaborative is finding that the number of professionals with social work degrees and backgrounds has diminished over the years. This is making it difficult to recruit new employees for this important work in child welfare. Nebraska is not alone. According to supply and demand projections, the nation will experience a total shortfall of over 195,000 social workers by the year 2030 (Lin, Lin & Zhang, 2016) if nothing is done to address this workforce shortage problem.

Recognizing the dire situation public and private programs face with a shortfall of qualified and educated social workers, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has advocated for a number of policy and regulatory changes, including supporting the use of Title IV-E for BSW/MSW education in the child welfare workforce that allows states to directly charge the costs of education to the Title IV-E program, as well as promoting incentives for BSW and MSW students to pursue child welfare work through student stipends and loan forgiveness programs. 

Nebraska Families Collaborative is also taking action to address this workforce shortage. For the past year, we have been developing a Master's in Social Work Child Welfare Cohort Program in partnership with the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Grace Abbott School of Social Work, Project Harmony and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Together, we have created an educational opportunity for 20 employees from NFC and these partner agencies to obtain their advanced social work degrees.

“This collaboration will make a major contribution to the professionalization of Nebraska’s child welfare workforce. Our employees are thrilled to have this new professional development opportunity.”

--David Newell, president and CEO of Nebraska Families Collaborative

The 20 employees, five of whom are from NFC, will spend the next three years earning a graduate degree by taking courses online and attending in-person classes every other weekend in Omaha or at the Grace Abbott School of Social Work's University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) location.

Funded by a combination of federal and private dollars, the cohort program will include an evaluation by the University of Nebraska at Omaha. For more information about the MSW Child Welfare Cohort Program, contact Donna Rozell, NFC's Chief Operating Officer at 402.492.2500.

 

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Press Release from bass.house.gov:

WASHINGTON, DC—As they continue to address the needs of the hundreds of thousands of young people who are currently a part of the foster care system and the tens of thousands who leave the system each year, Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.)—Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth—announced today they introduced H.R. 3641, the “Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act of 2015,” legislation that will close a loophole and guarantee that foster youth will still receive health insurance through Medicaid until they turn 26 years old regardless of their state of residence.

One of the goals of the Affordable Care Act was to ensure that young people could stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26. Because foster youth do not have legal guardians, the law addressed foster youth by guaranteeing that as long they were in the foster care system by the time they were 18 years old, they would be able to receive Medicaid until they turned 26.

However, because of ambiguity in one section of the law, foster youth who leave the foster care system may find themselves without health insurance through Medicaid if they decide to move out the state—even if they are attending college, working, or need to leave for personal reasons.

Although 13 states have addressed this issue, foster youth in the remaining 37 states and the District of Columbia face the choice of leaving the state for new opportunities or losing their health insurance. One of these young people is Lezlie Martinez, a 19-year-old former foster youth from San Diego, California.
Ms. Martinez was planning on moving to Colorado because of the lower cost of living there, and her boyfriend will soon be moving to the state—meaning that she will have a support system for herself as well as for her two-year-old son.

However, Colorado is a state that is not offering free Medicaid to former foster youth, and now Ms. Martinez is faced with having to decide between having healthcare while living in one room with her son or moving to Colorado so she can provide a better life for her child and herself but face losing her health insurance.

"This changes everything," said Ms. Martinez as she is forced to confront decisions about not just her future, but for her child as well.

“The Affordable Care Act was designed to help young people like Lezlie, not force them to choose between school in another state or healthcare where they currently live,” said Congresswoman Bass. “I commend the states that have addressed this problem, but now it is time for Congress to provide a permanent fix in federal law.”

The “Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act” is particularly important to ensure that foster youth maintain uninterrupted access to health insurance. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 35 and 60 percent of youth who enter foster care have at least one chronic or acute health condition such as asthma, cognitive abnormalities, visual and auditory problems, dental decay, and malnutrition that require long-term treatment, and 50 to 75 percent of foster youth exhibit behavioral or social competency issues that may require mental health treatment. In 2013, nearly 50,000 youth exited the foster care system between the ages of 16-20.

“I am proud to join with Congresswoman Bass in introducing this important legislation. Young adults in the foster care system deserve our special care and concern, as they came into the system through no fault of their own. These young adults are among the least served populations and its vitally important that Congress does all it can to provide them affordable and reliable access to medical care. I believe this legislation will do just that by making small clarifying fixes to the Affordable Care Act,” said Congressman McDermott.

Congressmembers G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tony Cardenas (D- CA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Judy Chu (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Danny K. Davis (D- IL), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), John Garamendi (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Ron Kind (D-WI), Jim Langevin (D- RI), John Lewis (D-GA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D- NJ), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Charlie Rangel (D- NY), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) joined the legislation as original co-sponsors.

Over 140 prominent advocacy organizations support the legislation, including First Focus Campaign for Children, The Alliance for Children’s Rights, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Psychological Association, Children’s Defense Fund, Child Welfare League of America, and Foster Family-based Treatment Association.

H.R. 3641 is companion legislation to S.1852, introduced by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA).

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