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Editorial: Oversight of Nebraska's child welfare system is vital

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More than 3,000 vulnerable young people receive services each day through Nebraska’s child welfare system. Problems for these young people include family instability, abuse or neglect. Nebraska child welfare professionals work hard, but it’s vital that the state provide oversight.

Two recent events — involving the Foster Care Review Office and involving the changeover in child welfare services for Douglas and Sarpy Counties — show why such monitoring is important.

The state Foster Care Review Office was in the news of late as its executive director left that position to work on justice juvenile services in Douglas County. The Foster Care Review Office, created in 1982, does vital work, tracking children in out-of-home care and analyzing child welfare data. Its annual reports point to key developments, positive and negative, on Nebraska’s child welfare front.

On the plus side, the office reports, Nebraska has achieved a notable decline in the number of children taken from the home and placed in state care. Instead, the state is striving to keep more children in the home with services provided for the family as a whole. The average number of Nebraska children in foster care totaled 3,389 last June, a decrease of 10% over the previous year and a fall of almost 20% over two years. Most of the children removed from their parents are placed with relatives or friends.

This is a significant improvement for Nebraska, which has long ranked among the states for the highest removal of children from the home.

The Foster Care Review Office points to a range of ongoing problems that need to be addressed. Here are three examples:

» Nebraska needs to do far better in finding permanent homes for children in out-of-home care. For 27.4% of those children, “there was no progress toward the primary permanency goal, and for an additional 25.2%, progress was minimal,” the office reports.

» There is too much turnover in caseworkers for children in out-of-home care.

» Nebraska has too few resources to prepare older children to transition out of foster care and into young adulthood.

Julie Rogers, the state inspector general for child welfare, also provides crucial oversight. Her work has pointed out the increased need for policies and procedures to protect children in state care from sexual abuse. Rogers received 45 reports of sexual abuse for children in state care during fiscal 2017-18 — up from 29 the year before and 16 the year before that.

The need for oversight is shown, too, by the recent switch in the child welfare provider for Douglas and Sarpy Counties. The new nonprofit provider is St. Francis Ministries, headquartered in Salina, Kansas. It replaces PromiseShip, a local nonprofit collaboration. That changeover formally occurred on Jan. 1, although the state Department of Health and Human Services started last fall in putting a range of teams in place to manage the complicated transition.

The Douglas-Sarpy area has long generated a large portion of Nebraska’s child welfare cases, and it’s imperative that rigorous oversight be in place on an ongoing basis to ensure a proper standard of services for these children.

Child welfare work in Nebraska is complex and challenging, with lifelong effects on children. Having proper monitoring in place is crucial, for the best interests of the children and our state.


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