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.