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Midland Voices, Omaha World-Herald
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.