With the Nebraska Legislature due to come back into session in only a few short weeks, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on one of its big child welfare successes last year – and the work that’s left to be done.
In Nebraska, about 70% of state wards are in out-of-home care. Children are removed from homes to keep them safe and to try to ensure their well-being. Out-of-home care is meant to be a temporary living situation, where children are kept safe until they can be returned to their families of origin or placed into another permanent and loving living situation, like adoption or guardianship. Unfortunately, these good intentions haven’t guaranteed good outcomes for children.While out-of-home care will probably always be necessary for some children, it’s a traumatic and intrusive level of service. But based on what we know about healthy child development and where we’re falling short as a state and a nation, we’ve taken some important strides forward in the past few years.
In 2008, the federal government passed the bipartisan Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. This was one of the most significant pieces of child welfare legislation in quite some time, because it aimed at really improving out-of-home care for children in six major ways:
- support for kinship care and family connections;
- support for older youth;
- coordinated health services;
- improved educational stability and opportunities;
- incentives and assistance for adoption; and
- direct access to federal resources for Indian Tribes.
The federal law put some mandates in place, but mostly it offered new options to states and federal funds for practices that reduce trauma for children by providing ways to ensure that they have stable and permanent connections even when they’re away from their families or in a temporary situation. Last year, Nebraska passed LB 177 which focused on two of these main provisions – support for kinship care and sibling connections, and support for older foster youth as they prepare to age out of the foster care system and become independent. This was a wonderful start, but lots of work remains to improve out-of-home care. Luckily, other provisions of the Fostering Connections Act lay the groundwork for some next steps that Nebraska should consider taking as it works to reform its child welfare system.