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Child maltreatment doesn’t start at removal, so we shouldn’t stop at reunification

The goal of the child welfare system is to keep kids safe in permanent, loving homes. After reading Martha Stoddard’s article in the Omaha World-Herald last weekend and reviewing the Foster Care Review Office’s quarterly report (mentioned in the article), the current state of Nebraska’s child welfare system looked pretty grim.  This quarter, the FCRO dug into the data surrounding children’s re-entry into DHHS care after being reunified with their families. The Omaha World-Herald reporting on the issue highlights this important point: 

“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.”

A few weeks ago, we asked the question “How permanent is permanency in Nebraska”?  This most recent report from the FCRO answered that question:

“Clearly, for some children “permanency” has become a temporary condition.”

The reality that reunification isn’t always permanent is pretty grim, especially considering that, of the 844 in their 2nd removal from home, 33% (about 279 children) returned to care within 6 months of reunification.

Child welfare agencies across the country have been looking for the best way to achieve permanency for children and youth who have been removed from their homes.  Many organizations prioritize prevention to keep kids from being removed in the first place.   Others highlight the benefits of family engagement throughout the child welfare process to ensure that families are not just being ordered to finish a case plan that was created for them, and instead are working with child welfare agencies to maximize their strengths and learn ways to keep their children safe.

Both strategies have proven benefits, but we cannot stop there.

The issues that brought the family to the attention of DHHS did not start on the day of removal, so it is not rational to believe that once children are returned home, DHHS can just wave goodbye.

This is actually something that we already know.   When children enter permanent guardianships or are adopted, the families receive continued supportive services.

It should not be hard to believe that the same should be true for children being reunified—the trauma associated with removal still exists and parents who have been strengthened by successful case planning now need time to apply what they have learned and to adjust to having their children back in the home.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway highlights numerous approaches to support reunification and prevent re-entry, including post-reunification supports, such as:

  • A plan for aftercare services that continue for at least 12 months after reunification,
  • Ensuring an adequate network of support to provide a safety net for parents experiencing stress,
  • Providing post-reunification services to address the needs of children and youth.

After all, children deserve permanency that is truly permanent.

Thank you to taking the time to share!

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