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Child Welfare

In Case You Missed It: February 6-10

The legislative session is in full swing and we had a busy week, testifying in committee hearings on eight bills. In case you missed anything, a summary of our week at the Nebraska Capitol is below.

Child Welfare

We submitted a letter of support for LB 107, which would close a gap in Nebraska’s statutory rape law and protect all of Nebraska’s children when they are in vulnerable positions.

Policy Associate Julia Tse testified Wednesday in support of LB 108, a bill to create the foundation for child-focused policy and practice when a parent is arrested and incarcerated. LB 108 would encourage necessary stable and loving relationships between children and their parents/guardians.

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on LB 456, a bill to strengthen the rights of parents with disabilities. We support this bill because children do best when they are part of a supportive and loving family and this bill reaffirms that the focal concern of our state remains with child well-being and safety.

Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers testified Tuesday in opposition to LB 595, a bill that would allow teachers to use physical force or restraint against students. We oppose LB 595 because it is at odds with best practices for improving classroom culture and keeping students engaged, and is likely to disproportionately affect students with disabilities and students of color.

Economic Stability

We submitted a letter of support for LB 260, a bill to increase healthy food access across Nebraska. Food insecurity is detrimental to a child’s health, behavioral functioning, and academic performance. We support LB 260 as a measure that would work to provide proper nutrition to more of Nebraska’s children.

On Monday, Policy Coordinator Kaitlin Reece testified in support of LB 305, a bill to extend paid family leave in Nebraska, stating: “A paid family leave program would level the playing field, provide a way to retain and attract workers, and provide a systemic solution to the current patchwork system that isn’t working for families or businesses.”

She also provided testimony in support of LB 372. This bill would support workers who are experiencing a high amount of family/work conflict and protect them from discrimination.

Proposed income tax cuts will leave Nebraskans in the future less able to respond to community needs. Policy Coordinator Kaitlin Reece provided testimony in opposition to LB 337 because we are concerned about the effects tax cuts will have on children, families, and education.

 

Take a look at our 2017 State Policy Agenda for the full list of our priority legislation.

 

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Voices for Children Testimony on LB 334

Voices for Children Policy Associate Julia Tse testified in opposition to LB 334, a bill to change Department of Health and Human Services provisions relating to families and eliminate a Family Finding pilot project. Read her full testimony below.

For a printable version of our testimony, click here.

To: Members of the Health and Human Services Committee
From: Julia Tse, Policy Associate
RE: Opposition to LB 334, to eliminate a Family Finding pilot project

 

All children need loving and permanent relationships with adults that they can learn from and trust, especially abused and neglected children that are in the state’s care. Voices for Children in Nebraska opposes LB 334, which terminates contracts for a Family Finding pilot project.

The Family Finding model is a promising practice that has been employed across the country to find a lifetime network of support for children in foster care who lack legal and emotional permanency. The model is an intensive approach that seeks to create lifetime connections for disconnected youth by finding and engaging family members and other supportive adults. Although this may include finding physical, legal permanence through adoption or guardianship, the program also seeks to create a broader sense of permanent belonging that so many of our children in care are lacking, by surrounding them with involved and supportive adults.

We all know that children do best in a stable family that can support them for a lifetime, and foster care is intended to be temporary for this reason. Unfortunately, many children in the care of our state remain without a forever home for far too long, and many never find a permanent place to call home before they turn 19. In 2015, the median length of stay in care was 17 months, and in one case, a child remained in care for 161 months—over 13 years. Of the youth who exited from care last year, just over 6%, or 105 young people, “aged out” of the system without a family to go home to.[1]

The progress that our state foster care system has seen in recent years, thanks to the hard work of this Legislature, has a real and life-changing effect on Nebraska’s most vulnerable children. The data show that there is always more that we can do as a state, and we believe that eliminating this important investment in finding families for children who are languishing in state care takes us a step backward.

We are especially concerned that the executive budget recommendations that accompany LB 334 show that service delivery of Family Finding will shift from contracted agencies to department staff. Last fall, Voices for Children provided testimony on LR 513 in this committee, which examined workforce issues in our child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The latest annual report issued by the Office of the Inspector General of Child Welfare found that caseloads are substantially out of compliance with state law, and were directly contributing to negative outcomes for children, including 2 deaths and 9 serious injuries of system-involved children.[2] We are troubled to see that Family Finding and a number of other important child welfare services will be cut and absorbed by department staff when current caseloads put child safety at risk. Family Finding, like other interventions intended to improve the safety, permanency, and well-being of children in foster care, requires specialized training and adequate resources to implement with fidelity, which we believe to be difficult to achieve without proper investments.

We thank Senator Riepe for his commitment to children in our state and the Committee for their time and consideration. We respectfully urge the committee to indefinitely postpone LB 334. Thank you.

 

[1] Data obtained from the Department of Health and Human Services.

[2] Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare, Annual Report 2015-2016, http://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/104/PDF/Agencies/Inspector_General_of_Nebraska_Child_Welfare/285_20 160914-113017.pdf.

 

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Support for LB 6 and LB 207

Voices for Children sent a letter of support to the Executive Board regarding LB 6 and LB 207, both concerning the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare. LB 6 would provide for release of a summarized report by the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare. LB 207 would change provisions relating to powers and duties of the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare.

You can read our entire letter of support below.

For a printable version of our letter of support, click here.

 

To: Chairman Watermeier and the Executive Board

From: Juliet Summers, Policy Coordinator for Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

RE: LB 6—Provide for release of a summarized report by the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare and LB 207—Change provisions relating to powers and duties of the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare

All children deserve the best opportunities to become healthy and productive adults, and we must ensure that our state child protective system is working to enhance, rather than undercut, those opportunities. To that end, Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 6 and LB 207, both of which would allow the Office of the Inspector General of Child Welfare to continue to protect vulnerable children and improve our system response for all youth in our state’s care.

The OIG collects vital information on child well-being and must be able to use this information to identify and correct systemic and structural issues. If the OIG is not permitted to release important findings more than once a year in an Annual Report, some issues of concern may not be highlighted and important concerns may not be addressed in a timely manner. LB 6 would allow the Inspector General to address critical issues as they arise, and the public to become aware of proposed solutions sooner, better protecting Nebraska’s children.

An office that investigates when things have gone wrong, but keeps those investigations confidential and uses its power only to make recommendations to improve system response is a special tool. With this in mind, LB 207 would expand the OIG’s power to make recommendations by ensuring that the OIG receives more complete information.

The Office of the Inspector General of Child Welfare serves an important and independent role in ensuring that all children involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems in our state are kept safe and given the proper supports and services that they need to succeed. Voices for Children supports these bills in the understanding that they will further the important work of the Inspector General.

We thank Senator Krist for his ongoing support for the Office of Inspector General of Child Welfare and this Committee for your time and consideration.

 

Sincerely,

Juliet Summers

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Cutting Our Future: Domestic Violence and Child Welfare

Every two years, state agencies in Nebraska publish a biennial budget proposal outlining potential priorities for funding and budget cuts. This year, in light of projected reductions in state revenue receipts, Governor Ricketts has asked state agencies to identify general fund budget cuts amounting to 8 percent in laying out a 2017-2019 budget. Our state investment in systems that support children have a lasting and widespread effect on our future and our community. Because of this, Voices for Children in Nebraska reviews budget proposals issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to explore the impact that cuts will have on the well-being of children in our state.

The proposed changes in funding for programs that have been incredibly beneficial to children is concerning to us at Voices for Children. In this post in our series on the DHHS proposed budget, we will examine the consequences of budget cuts for domestic violence services on child welfare.

In their proposed budget, DHHS suggests terminating contracts with community-based agencies that provide emergency services for domestic violence victims and their children. If funding for these programs is cut, domestic violence victims and their children would face more barriers to fleeing dangerous situations and more children would enter the child welfare system.

The services DHHS is considering cutting aid victims of domestic violence in finding safety and security for themselves and their children. In 2015, 537 Nebraskan children were removed from their homes because of domestic violence—cuts to domestic violence emergency services would separate more families and send more children into the child welfare system. If the non-abusive parent is capable of providing a loving home, it is in the child’s best interest to remain in their parent’s care rather than entering the foster care system. Considering the mental, emotional, and behavioral impact witnessing domestic violence has on children, the stability a child would receive by remaining with their parent and siblings is important in minimizing trauma and creates the best path toward successful development.

At Voices for Children, we are increasingly concerned with the high volume of cases each caseworker is expected to handle. Many of DHHS’s budget cuts expect current employees to absorb work done by the programs that are being cut and we worry that adding more responsibilities to child welfare workers’ already overloaded plates would result in worse outcomes for children and families. When considering the new budget, lawmakers must ask whether DHHS would be able to provide services with the same level of expertise and commitment they currently do.

Whatever cuts are made in the final budget, it is important that lawmakers keep children’s best interests in mind. Investments in services that protect children and provide the safest and most stable environments will allow children to develop into healthy, independent adults. We need to ensure that Nebraska continues to fund services that will provide youth with the best possible future.

The budget is a complicated document and we’re sure to miss issues that are important to some of our readers.  If you’re concerned about a particular proposed cut in the budget, let us know in the comments below.  We may not cover everything on our blog, but we still want to know what challenges you see in the upcoming budget. If you are concerned about any of the cuts outlined above we urge you to contact your senator about your concerns before the legislature begins to decide on the final budget in January.

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Cutting Our Future: Child Welfare

Every two years, state agencies in Nebraska publish a biennial budget proposal outlining potential priorities for funding and budget cuts. This year, in light of projected reductions in state revenue receipts, Governor Ricketts has asked state agencies to identify general fund budget cuts amounting to 8 percent in laying out a 2017-2019 budget. Our state investment in systems that support children have a lasting and widespread effect on our future and our community. Because of this, Voices for Children in Nebraska reviews budget proposals issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to explore the impact that cuts will have on the well-being of children in our state.

The proposed decreases in funding for programs that have been incredibly beneficial to children is concerning to us at Voices for Children. In the first in a series of blog posts, we will examine the consequences of cuts to programs that have improved Nebraska’s child welfare system.

Reduce rates in congregate care services by 10%: When children are placed in out-of-home care, every effort should be made to place them in a family-like setting over congregate care in order to provide more stability and lasting relationships with trusted adults. Nevertheless, congregate placements are a part of our placement continuum, and a reduction in rates paid to providers could result in reduced quality of services available to children or even facility closures, leaving a gap in our system response.

Refer 50% fewer relative and kinship placements: Studies show that children who are not able to remain with their parents have the most favorable educational, health, and psychological outcomes when they are placed in kinship care—with other relatives such as grandparents or aunts and uncles. However, even loving family members need ongoing training and support when asked to suddenly take in and care for children full-time. Currently, child-placing agencies across the state provide support for these placements.  The current budget proposal would instead ask an already-burdened DHHS workforce to take on these responsibilities. This is troubling, especially in light of the promising growth of relative placement in the last two years, up from 28% in 2012 to nearly 46% this past year.

End Family Finding contracts: Family engagement is an essential support to children in foster care. The proposal to end Family Finding contracts that were recently established in 2015 again suggests that DHHS staff will absorb this work. The Family Finding model has demonstrated extremely promising results in finding permanency for children in foster care, particularly older youth and children of color, by finding and meaningfully engaging family members. Currently contracted providers have the expertise, time and ability to implement the model as intended; moving the program in-house could result in a loss of fidelity to this evidence-based program, and thus a loss of positive results for kids who deserve lifelong relationships.

Cut funding for Right Turn: Right Turn was formed in the wake of Nebraska’s 2008 Safe Haven law, which allowed parents or guardians to leave children of all ages at safe sites without punishment. In the first few months, many teenagers were left at these safe sites, 75% of whom were in adoptive or guardianship homes. Right Turn provides invaluable services and support to adoptive families, creating stable situations for children who are placed in foster and adoptive homes. Cutting ties with Right Turn could result in more youth returning to state custody after placement with a family, creating a disruption in their care or a loss of permanency.

In order to best serve and protect children in the child welfare system, Nebraska needs to continue funding these programs. Eliminating funds for these programs, particularly without simultaneously increasing funds to hire and train more DHHS staff in implementing them, would affect the thousands of kids in Nebraska’s child welfare system—over 11,000 in 2014—and reverse positive progress made in the past several years.

No matter the cuts that are made in our final budget, we have to keep in mind that the decisions our lawmakers make today will have consequences for our future. Our careful planning and future thinking as a state have allowed us to pay for things like schools and universities, health care and public safety, and to weather the recession in better shape than most states. We owe it to children and youth to create a state budget that lays out a plan for their future and gives them the same opportunities for success that generations before them have experienced.

The budget is a complicated document and we’re sure to miss issues that are important to some of our readers.  If you’re concerned about a particular cut in the budget, let us know in the comments below.  We may not cover everything on our blog, but we still want to know what challenges you see in the upcoming budget.

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Voices for Children Testimony on LR 523

Yesterday, Voices for Children Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers testified on LR 523, an interim study on the gaps in services, legal protections, and access to public benefits available to youth who are eighteen but have not reached the age of majority. Voice for Children testified on the need to address this gap in services, the effect this gap has on a healthy transition into adulthood, and provided possible solutions to expand care for Nebraska’s youth. You can read our entire LR 523 Testimony below.

 

To: Members of the Health & Human Services and Judiciary Committees

From: Juliet Summers, Policy Coordinator at Voices for Children in Nebraska

Re: LR 523 – Examining Nebraska law regarding the protection of children who have reached 18 years of age but not reached the age of majority

All children, even older ones, deserve care and consideration in our state protective codes.  As you’ve heard today, Nebraska’s age of majority is 19, but we have a piecemeal response when it comes to how 18-year-olds should be treated. You’ve heard from Faith, whose compelling story outlines the lack of protective response available when an 18-year-old is seeking to escape from an abusive home life.  You should have before you a letter from Dr. Anne Hobbs, a foster parent who witnessed first-hand last year the discrepancy in system response solely on the basis of age between two brothers she fostered. Judge Reagan outlined the complexity of Nebraska’s case law regarding emancipation, and the lack of any direct and clear legal course for a minor to take in order to formally seek emancipation from his or her parents.

My role today is to describe for you two possible avenues of solution for the gap that our laws and regulations have created.  I have submitted a handout with a copy of my testimony for you highlighting these avenues.

  1. Raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and child protective service response to match our age of majority.

Nebraska was ahead of the curve in setting a higher age of majority; as brain science has evolved, so too has our understanding of just how long it takes for a young person to grow into true emotional and psychological adulthood. However, by raising the age of legal majority without simultaneously extending original juvenile court jurisdiction to match, we have left a gap for 18-year-olds who are nearing legal adulthood, but may nonetheless require protection and assistance. The Nebraska Juvenile Code, §43-245(11), defines “juvenile” for the purposes of initiating jurisdiction as a “person under 18 years of age” and DHHS regulation Ch. 1-006.01 states that “for intake purposes, child welfare accepts referrals on children from birth through age 17.”

What makes this gap particularly perplexing is that current statute permits ongoing cases to continue through our age of majority. For instance, if a 14-year-old is identified as a child in need of protection, Child Protective Services (CPS) may accept the intake and the case proceed to court. If permanency hasn’t been achieved for the child by age 18, the case can stay open, and the 18 year old may remain a state ward through the age of 19, at which time he or she is eligible to enter extended foster care through the Bridge to Independence program.

The Nebraska legislature could act to close this gap by permitting juvenile court jurisdiction to be initiated through the age of 19, and requiring DHHS to update intake regulations accordingly. In doing so, the state would be granting authority to CPS and the courts to intervene, even in a time-limited fashion, when an 18 year old is at risk due to an abusive or neglectful home-life. Such a filing would also provide the youth an opportunity for former ward supports after age 19, or even to enter extended foster care through the Bridge to Independence program.

  1. Create a statutory avenue for minors of a certain age to initiate proceedings for emancipation.

A complementary approach could also include offering a statutory avenue for minors to seek emancipation through filing in probate or district court.  As Judge Reagan testified, there may be an obscure common-law work around that would permit the creative lawyer to file suit as a “next friend” of an 18-year-old seeking emancipation. However, without a clear statutory avenue permitting such a filing, lawyers may be chilled from doing so by fear of filing a frivolous suit, judges may refuse to hear such proceedings without clear guidance by the Legislature, and vulnerable youth may be least likely to understand what, if any, avenue they would have to request a formal finding.

Twenty-one states offer minors some relief in the ability to initiate proceedings for emancipation, usually setting a minimum age to do so. Some permit the court to appoint a guardian ad litem or investigator to provide evidence regarding the minor’s financial means and whether they have cut ties in such a way as to be considered truly independent. Nearly all the states that permit emancipation by court filing have set statutory requirements regarding financial and personal independence, findings that the court must make prior to ordering legal emancipation.

I should note that neither of these two solutions stands perfectly on its own.  Providing an avenue for suit for emancipation might help a legal-savvy young person with resources to prove financial independence to a court, but would not protect, for instance, an 18-year-old with a developmental disability whose guardian suddenly passed away. Conversely, closing the gap between our age of CPS/court intervention and our age of majority would allow for intakes to be made and placement to be secured between the ages of 18 and 19 in cases of abuse or neglect, but some minors might still be missed in investigation or passed over through county attorney discretion. Indeed, a resourceful young person like Faith, who by the time she turned 18 had already separated herself successfully from her abusive home-life and had her future well in hand, might be better served by the simplicity of legal independence than by anything state intervention could offer.  Each of these solutions offers a potential piece of the answer.

I’d like to thank both Committees for your time and consideration of this important issue, and particularly Senator Howard for her dedication to bringing this problem forward and seeking solutions.  I would be happy to answer any questions.

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Let’s Put Nebraska Kids First

At Voices for Children in Nebraska, we advocate for policies that help make our state the best place to be a kid. Guided by research, we seek to remove barriers to opportunity for all children by engaging the public and elected officials on the issues of child welfare, economic stability, health, and juvenile justice

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Regardless of the results of this election, child well-being remains a non-partisan issue. As our state’s greatest resource, children serve as a unifier across the political spectrum. The decisions our leaders make about them impact our collective future. Now that you have voted, we encourage you to reach out to your newly elected officials to find out how they will work to make children a priority. To find your current state senator, click here.

With this in mind, we present our Pro-Kid Policy Plan for the upcoming year. This plan represents our vision for a Nebraska where strong communities allow all children to lead healthy, secure, and fulfilling lives.

Pro-Kid Policy Plan

Voices for Children works to ensure that:

Child Welfare: Children grow up in safe, permanent, and loving homes. An effective child welfare system strengthens families and minimizes trauma through timely and appropriate action.

In October, we testified at an interim study on LR 513 about workforce issues within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Next week, we will share information with the Legislature during a hearing on LR 523 about the gap in child protective response for 18 year olds, who have not yet reached Nebraska’s age of majority.

Economic Stability: Families are able to achieve financial security, and children’s basic needs are met. State economic policies support families in trying to build a better future and balance work and family life.

Last month, we collaborated with other community partners on, “The Cost of Being Poor” a panel discussion on small debt lawsuits in Nebraska, and how they disproportionately burden low-income Nebraskans.

On December 7, we invite you to join us for a film screening of The Ordinance, a film highlighting a community’s successful efforts to take on predatory lending practices. This industry often prevents families from achieving financial security. Register for free here.

Health: Children and families have access to affordable, quality physical and behavioral health care. Consistent and preventive health care gives children the best start to grow up to be healthy and productive adults.

We are working to ensure the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is re-authorized by Congress and that the over 15,000 Nebraska kids currently eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but not yet enrolled get access to care.

Juvenile Justice: Youth are held accountable for their actions in developmentally appropriate ways that promote community safety and allow them to grow into responsible citizens.

Last month, we testified on LR 514 an interim study to examine the availability of transition services for youth who will leave or have left the juvenile justice system while in an out-of-home placement.

With the Pro-Kid Policy at the core of all that we do, Voices for Children will continue researching and advocating to make Nebraska the best place for everyone to be a kid.

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November is National Adoption Month!

img_1559November is National Adoption Month! All children need the support of a safe, permanent, and loving family. Achieving permanency in a timely manner should be the priority of our foster care system for children who cannot be reunified with their family. We decided to kick off the month by looking at some state facts and policies that tell us more about how to strengthen adoption as a permanency option for children in our state foster care system.

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  • 467 children were adopted in 2014
  • 123 children aged out without a forever family
  • 224 children exited into guardianships in 2014
  • Mean time from entry to adoption: 33.4 months
  • Older youth awaiting adoption are significantly less likely to find permanency through adoption than younger children
  • Children of color are disproportionately represented among those waiting to be adopted, while white children are more likely to exit out-of-home care to adoption

Policies that Work:

Engaging families to ensure that children find permanency in a loving home, especially children of color and older youth.

  • Utilizing the Family Finding model (LB 243 in 2015) to engage adult relatives and kin who can be a lifelong source of support for foster youth
  • Targeting recruitment of foster and adoptive parents to address the unique cultural and developmental needs of children in care

Supporting children and families to ensure that adoptive parents are adequately prepared to address the trauma of abuse and neglect in the long-term.

  • Maximizing federal IV-E funds for adoption assistance and reinvesting funds saved from the Fostering Connections Act of 2008 into post-permanency services
  • Empowering and supporting relative or kinship caregivers who are capable of providing children with permanency through adoption or guardianship
  • Strengthening supports available to youth who transition into independent living

Bridge to Independence

  • In 2013, the Unicameral passed LB 216 to extend supports and services until age 21 to youth who have “aged out” of the child welfare system. The Bridge to Independence program provides youth with Medicaid coverage, a monthly stipend to cover living expenses, and access to a caseworker to help them transition into adulthood.
  • 101 young adults were served from the start of the program in October 2014 through the end of 2014.

For more information about adoption in Nebraska, visit the state adoption homepage.

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Voices for Children Testimony on LR 513

Yesterday, Voices for Children Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers testified on LR 513, which examines workforce issues within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Voices for Children testified on the need to ensure that case managers and probation officers have an appropriate number of cases, provide more support for the child welfare workers, and increase state funding to achieve these goals. You can read our entire LR 513 Testimony below.

For a printable version of the testimony, click here.

Nebraska children coming into the care of the state through our child welfare and juvenile justice systems deserve a system structured and funded to promote a thoughtful yet timely response. Our case managers and probation officers are the front line of service to our state’s youth, and we depend upon them to use careful judgment and build strong relationships with children and families to promote the best outcomes. The caseload and responsibilities we demand, as well as the support, supervision and training we offer, to these dedicated public servants can make all the difference for Nebraska’s youth.
It hardly needs to be said that creating a stable, supported, highly qualified workforce is a complex issue. Computing appropriate caseload and workload is just one piece of the puzzle, and much more than a simple numerical equation. Other puzzle pieces include, but are not limited to:

Streamlining requirements placed on front line workers: In addition to the direct client work of meeting with families, making referrals and recommendations, and attending court hearings, case managers and probation officers in Nebraska may also report to LB 1184 teams, the Foster Care Review Office, or even the Office of the Inspector General or the Governor’s office. In efforts to better protect and support children in care, as a state we have continued to add reporting and notification requirements. This is all to the good, but it has to be factored into workload if we want the primary role of the worker to be the child’s care and protection. Nebraska is certainly not alone in this; national estimates of workload time suggest only 20-35% is spent on direct client contact or collateral contact. In efforts to better protect and support children nationally, workers are “increasingly expected to do more assessments, diligent searches, notifications, visits, team meetings, plans, referrals, court testimonies, and documentation.” On the child welfare side, a possible statutory change to consider on this front would be to count court-involved cases per child, instead of per family, regardless of whether the children reside in or out of the home. In-home versus out-of-home is not a perfect proxy for the complexity of the case or family’s needs, and the worker is still be required to make individualized recommendations, referrals, permanency plans, for each child in the home. This could also unintentionally incentivize movement toward out-of-home placement in borderline cases, as the complexity of the case will remain the same, but the worker’s ongoing caseload will decrease when a child is removed to an out-of-home placement.

Investing in our workforce: We need to make sure as a state that we are adequately funding our systems to attract and retain the most qualified candidates. The primary set of recommendations from the Children’s Commission’s Workforce Workgroup regard bringing salaries in line with regional averages and offering greater student loan forgiveness, particularly for workers taking employment in underserved areas of the state. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 Nebraska’s mean wage for child & family social workers was $39,440, lower than nearly all of our surrounding states: Iowa ($43,140), Kansas ($40,810), South Dakota ($39,580), Colorado ($47,960), and Wyoming ($45,130). The national mean wage for child & family social workers employed by state government (excluding schools and hospitals) was $45,730. The same survey estimated that Nebraska’s probation officers & correctional treatment specialists received a mean wage of $40,360, which also fell below most of our neighboring states: South Dakota ($40,820), Wyoming ($46,880), Colorado ($56,540), and Iowa ($66,740). The national annual mean wage was $53,930. Given the Workforce Workgroup’s findings that the average tenure for a child welfare worker in Nebraska is only 3.19 years, and the cost of training a replacement is between $30,000- $36,000, lifting salaries should be seen as an investment rather than a fiscal hit.

Supporting the workforce through adequate training, support, and supervision: National research does not clearly link high caseloads with turnover; rather, turnover may be more likely related to worker support systems to reduce administrative burdens and manage the secondary traumatic stress of working with traumatized children. Other states have seen progress by making counseling available to front line workers to ameliorate the effects of secondary traumatic stress, reducing administrative headaches through modern technology, and offering the flexibility of reduced work-week schedules or telework. For instance, New Hampshire has created telework units comprised of workers with advanced experience. Staff are given materials necessary (laptop, smartphone, etc.) and access to a secure server to upload case information and communicate with supervisors on cases. Employees in the units experienced a better balance of field time and paperwork, fewer distractions, increased communication with the supervisor, increased sense of team membership, less travel in some cases, greater job satisfaction, increased efficiency, and lower turnover.

Increasing focus and targeting funding on prevention: Finally, Nebraska must continue to decrease the children coming into state care overall, through continued emphasis on preventive efforts. The best way to decrease our state worker caseloads is to continue and amplify our state funding and support for evidence-based preventive approaches like alternative response in child welfare, and on the probation side, by encouraging the expansion of community-based resources and diversion programs in all our counties.

Thank you to the Committee for all your time and work to protect Nebraska’s children, and to Senator Howard for bringing this interim study examining a difficult and important issue.

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Voices Releases 2016 Vote Kids Candidate Survey

Child policy issues often receive little discussion within campaigns and elections. This is not because candidates and the public do not care about the issues. They do. But child policy issues often do not lend themselves to simple sound bites. They are not considered “hot button” issues that shape many campaigns. The result is that the pressing needs of Nebraska’s children have not been the subject of the type of political discourse required to reach consensus and make meaningful changes.

We developed Vote Kids to elevate that discourse. Vote Kids is based on the belief that raising child policy to greater prominence in elections is a way to re-orient our political process towards common concerns and practical solutions. Through Vote Kids, you will find survey results from our Nebraska legislative candidates. These surveys aim to help cut through the confusion and allow voters to learn more about politicians, their priorities, and the policy decisions they make on behalf of children.

Check out responses from candidates in your district and be a voice for children when you vote on November 8th!

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