In 2008 during our state’s Safe Haven crisis, parents relinquished custody of 36 children to the state of Nebraska. Most of these children were struggling with behavioral health challenges that had left their families feeling helpless.
The message was clear: Nebraska’s families and children weren’t getting the help they needed.
In 2009, legislators responded by allocating additional funding for children’s behavioral health aid and creating a number of new programs that would help connect families with the services and supports they needed to help their children thrive and grow. Advocates had high hopes that children’s behavioral health services were finally getting the attention and resources they needed.
Challenges still remain, however, and stories of parents making their children state wards to access services are all too common. Our state’s budget has played a large role in preventing success. Despite the fact that there was ample evidence we weren’t dedicating enough funding to ensuring children and families accessed services, legislators reduced funding for two of the programs created after Safe Haven in 2011. Behavioral health aid and provider rates were also reduced.
This year, the DHHS budget request is proposing cuts of over $3.6 million for the next two years from aid to Nebraska’s Behavioral Health Regions. The Regions play a key role in providing community-based services to mostly low-income children and youth across our state struggling with mental health and substance abuse challenges. The Regions are also an important provider of services for parents and families facing mental health or substance abuse challenges of their own, many of whom are involved with our state’s child welfare system.
In 2010, our Regions served 3,824 children. The Regions provide funding for a range of services from simple outpatient therapy, to the Professional Partner Program which provides wrap-around services to at risk families, to respite care, and beyond. Providing children access to timely, needed community-based services can reduce their need for greater and more intense treatment later on. The support Regions provide help keep children safe and families together.
Nebraska’s behavioral health system needs more resources to adequately provide for the needs of children and families, especially those in or at risk of entering the child welfare system. We hope the Legislature and the Governor will begin to think about making strategic investments, instead of cutting vital services that will cost Nebraska it’s future prosperity.