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Has the child welfare pyramid been flipped?


I recently marked my 3rd anniversary at Voices for Children in Nebraska. During my tenure at Voices for Children, one topic has dominated the child welfare conversation: Nebraska’s habit of making children state wards and relying on out-of-home care. 

For years, Nebraska has had one of the highest rates of children in out-of-home care in the entire country. While out-of-home care can be necessary, removing a child from their family is a traumatic experience. For years, Nebraska has been searching for ways to keep more kids and families safely together.

As you read on the blog a few weeks ago, recent news coverage shows that our number of state wards has been declining.

So, is Nebraska’s reliance on out-of-home care over? Has our child welfare pyramid been flipped? And just what are we doing differently that has lead to this decline?

As the charts below show, Nebraska’s decline in state wards seems to be due to the expanding number of children and families receiving services outside of the court system. Referred to as “non-court” cases, they accounted for almost 43% of all entries into the child welfare system in 2012. While our number of wards has decreased, we’re actually serving slightly more children in our child welfare system on the whole.

And more and more of these children and families are being served together. In 2012, over 94% of the children in “non-court” cases, were served in their homes and with their families, compared to just over 24% of children who were made state wards.

So while Nebraska still serves children who are state wards in out-of-home care at an overwhelming rate, our child welfare system as a whole is becoming more balanced. In 2012, a little over half of all children entering our child welfare system were kept safely in their homes.

This doesn’t mean our work is done, though. As we keep more kids and families together, we’ll need to make sure enough high quality services are provided to these “non-court” families. With less formal oversight than court cases, we’ll need to make sure there are mechanisms to ensure children’s safety and rights are protected and that families are respected and engaged. As more families exit our non-court system, we’ll need to make sure that they do so fully prepared to succeed.

Our child welfare system has made some wonderful strides in the past few years, and with persistence, we can continue to build on the progress that’s already been made so that all of Nebraska’s kids are safe.


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