LINCOLN — Nearly 1,500 Nebraska foster children have been removed from their families more than once, according to a new report.
The Nebraska Foster Care Review Office issued the report Friday while calling for efforts to address the causes of multiple removals and find ways to promote long-term stability for children.
The report said that of the 3,784 children in out-of-home care on July 29, 1,478 children, or 39 percent, had been in out-of-home care at least one other time. Three had been removed as many as nine times.
“Clearly, for some children, 'permanency' has become a temporary condition,” the report said.
“The foster care system should not become a revolving door of removal from the home, return to parents, re-abuse or neglect, removal, etc.,” the report said, “yet that is what some children experience.”
The report was one of two released this week that point to continuing flaws in the child welfare system.
Julie Rogers, Nebraska's inspector general for child welfare, issued the other report, which summarizes her first year of investigating complaints, reviewing critical incidents and talking with various groups about the child welfare system.
She called for improvements in several areas.
Among them are attracting and keeping high-quality caseworkers and effectively serving youths with developmental disabilities, low cognitive functioning or disorders and behaviors stemming from trauma.
Rogers also called for more consistent representation of parents and children by court-appointed attorneys.
Russ Reno, a spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, issued a statement: “We take their recommendations seriously and consider them as we move forward in stabilizing our child welfare system toward the improved health and safety of children and families.”
Both reports noted that fewer children are getting involved in the child welfare system.
Rogers pointed to the declining number of state wards. The review office said fewer are being removed from their homes, and the length of time children spend in out-of-home care has decreased.
HHS reported in July that the number of state wards had dropped 13.6 percent over nearly 15 months — from 6,121 children in early March 2012 to 5,284 as of July 15.
Rogers praised the decline as a positive step but said those numbers don't tell the whole story.
“Simply closing a case or failing to open one is not, in itself, a victory — not if that family needs further help,” she said.
Neither report called for major changes in the child welfare system, which has undergone numerous upheavals during the last four years.
Rogers said the system has “not yet reached a point of stabilization since the failed attempt at privatization.”
As of February 2012, four of five private agencies had lost or dropped their contracts to manage child welfare cases for the state.
In the months since, HHS has adopted a new method of assessing the risks facing children who are the subject of abuse and neglect reports.
The review office report did not show whether the proportion of children undergoing multiple removals changed with the new assessment method.
Research shows that each removal is traumatic for a child, the report said.
To address the problem, the report recommended looking at how well caseworkers are assessing the safety and appropriateness of returning a child.
It also recommended efforts to ensure that families get help to address their problems, including help finding housing, jobs, food and therapy.
The report said the main reasons for removing children, whether it be the first or a subsequent time, were neglect, unsafe or inappropriate housing, parental drug or alcohol abuse, and a child's behavior.