When most people think of pyramids, they probably think of Ancient Egypt. Maybe a few think of geometry class or the way we learned about nutrition in grade school. The first association that jumps into my mind is … Nebraska’s child welfare system.
I’m not sure who in Nebraska first coined the phrase “flipping the pyramid,” but ever since I started child welfare policy work here at Voices for Children it has dominated quite a few legislative hearings and meetings. It’s been cited as a key goal of Nebraska’s ongoing, troubled child welfare reform. If you don’t live and breathe child welfare like I do, you may not be sure what exactly that phrase means.
Nebraska’s pyramid refers to the types of services children receive when they come into our child welfare and juvenile justice system and are made state wards. Sometimes a child stays with their family while receiving services, called in-home services. Sometimes a child is removed from their family and enters out-of-home care. Here’s what our child welfare “pyramid” looked like from July 1, 2010 to April 25, 2011, over two years into child welfare reform, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Pathways to Progress Report:
30.74% of children receive in-home services
69.26 % of children in out-of-home care
Here in Nebraska we remove children into out-of-home care at about twice the national average. We know out-of-home care can unintentionally harm the children it seeks to help. Children love their families, and when it’s possible, children and families should receive services in a way that allows children to safely stay at home.
Here’s the trouble with boiling child welfare reform down to “flipping the pyramid:” we don’t just need to flip the pyramid, we need to build a new one with a solid base of in-home services. Reform shouldn’t be about making sure percentages of children are in one place rather than another. It should be about getting children the services they need in a way that’s best for them. It may be impossible to build this new pyramid in a day, but we need to get started sooner rather than later. Children and families shouldn’t have to wait for the services they need.