Yesterday, Voices for Children hosted a lunch and learn event at the State Capitol highlighting the Annie E. Casey report “Every Kid Needs a Family.” Panelists discussed the report and recommendations, and highlighted efforts already underway in Nebraska to keep at-risk children in the environment where they are best supported to succeed: in homes, with families.
Senator Kate Bolz of Lincoln’s District 29 introduced the event, thanking fellow senators for the real heart the Legislature has for Nebraskan children, and the dedication of both policymakers and practitioners on the ground to pursuing best practices and improving child well-being. The event was fortuitously timed, falling on the same day that the Governor signed into law LB 243, Sen. Bolz’s legislation to increase family finding efforts in our state.
Chrissy Tonkinson, Research Coordinator at Voices, opened the panel by presenting the report’s findings. As defined, “family placement” includes family home of origin, kinship care, and foster family placement. “Non-family placement” includes detention facilities, group homes, and medical facilities. Nearly all children do better, on nearly all measures, when living with a family. The data from 2013 were not good for Nebraska, when 16% of children in our child welfare system were residing in non-family placements. Chrissy shared Kids Count data on child welfare placements, comparing it with the report’s ideal model of a family-centered continuum of care:
Next, Kari Rumbaugh and Jim Bennett from the Juvenile Probation Administration spoke about efforts in juvenile justice to keep at-risk youth within families. For too long, Nebraska has relied too heavily on detention and group home placement to address delinquent behaviors. Kari and Jim highlighted how probation officers are working on both ends to lower our rate of out of home placement: to keep lower-risk youth at home in the first place by adopting measures to reduce detention and wrap resources around families, and to cut down lengths of stay out of the home for those youth who do require the higher level structure and supervision of a residential placement. We still have a ways to go, but efforts like the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and the Intensive In-Home Family Service model are showing promising results.
Finally, David Newell from Nebraska Families Collaborative shared some successes of the Family Finding model and other initiatives in the child welfare system to keep children in family placements: in their homes of origin or kinship homes, where possible, or in supportive foster care homes. On the large scale, Nebraska’s rate of non-family placement has greatly improved in the past two years. In Douglas and Sarpy counties, 91% of children in care are now living in family homes.
On the small scale, David also told the stories of two youth personally touched by family finding efforts. Both were struggling as they bounced from institution to institution. One was reconnected with his father through the Family Finding program, the other with a large and loving extended family in Texas. Both are now living with their found families, and showing remarkable turnarounds in their behaviors and outlook on life.
Every kid needs a family. Every kid deserves a family. We want to thank all our presenters and attendees not just for supporting this event, but for all the hard work they put in, every day, to make sure every child has the opportunity to thrive in a loving home.