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Child Welfare’s Changing Front Door: The Data

In order to better understand the dramatic drop in the number of Nebraska children entering the child welfare system and becoming state wards,  we have to dive a little deeper into the data.  Two interesting trends pop out when we look a little deeper.

By region
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services breaks the state up into 5 service areas. When comparing the number of substantiated cases of abuse and neglect by service area, an interesting trend appears. The percent of calls that were found to be substantiated cases of abuse and neglect by case workers dropped in the more populated Eastern parts of the state, while the more rural Central and Western parts of the state remained relatively consistent. Substantiated calls decreased 3% in the Eastern Service Area, which is almost exclusively the Omaha metro area. The Southeast service area (Lincoln and surrounding counties) experienced a drop of 2%. The Northern service area also experienced a dramatic drop in substantiated cases, but oddly does not have a high urban population.

Percent of Calls to CAN found to be substantiated
Service Area 2011 2012
Central 7.2% 7.4%
Eastern 10.0% 7.0%
Northern 9.2% 6.6%
Southeast 12.1% 10.3%
Western 9.4% 8.7%

When we look at the data broken out this way, we begin to ask different questions.  Why do these drastic differences exist? Are they related to the differences in population? Are they related to rurality/urbanity? Is there something else entirely at play?

By type of abuse
While we were digging into the data another interesting trend stood out. When looking at the type of substantiated cases of abuse, a significant drop, over 13% of all cases, in physical neglect was found between 2011 and 2012.

Once again, we are left with questions of what does this mean for Nebraska’s kids. In prior years, were case workers mistakenly identifying physical neglect (which often confused with poverty) or is the new screening tool missing cases?

Voices for Children will continue to investigate these trends to attempt to find an answer, and we are anxiously waiting for the next few year’s data to see if these trends persist. Stay tuned to the blog and for this year’s Kids Count in Nebraska Report as we attempt to make sense of these and other child welfare related trends.

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