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Nebraska’s new opportunity: a Title IV-E waiver

One of the things I love most about my job is that it lets me spend a lot of time doing one of my favorite things: nerding out over policy and data. My job requires that I know way more about how our child welfare and juvenile justice systems work than the average person.

The challenge in indulging in extremely nerdy levels of knowledge is turning around and making it interesting and relevant to everyone else who cares deeply about kids, but may not delight in pouring over excel spreadsheets of data, or hundreds of pages of research, reports, and policy at quiet the level I do.

My challenge today is to delve into an exciting new opportunity Nebraska has to better serve children and families: the Title IV-E waiver.

Unless you are a super nerd like me, “Title IV-E waiver” isn’t the most descriptive of titles, so let me break this down a little bit.  Title IV-E is the section of the Social Security Act that funds foster care services.  This is the funding that Nebraska uses to strengthen families, keep kids safe, and ensure that they have permanent, loving homes. Unfortunately, over the years, most of the dollars from the federal government have only been available for youth in out-of-home care (see infographic below).

** If you’re a child welfare policy nerd like me, you may want to check out our child welfare history timeline to learn more about how this came to be.**

Removal into out-of-home care is traumatic for children, but very few federal resources have been available to keep kids and families who come to the attention of the child welfare system safe and together in Nebraska.

But that is all about to change. Just a few weeks ago, Nebraska was selected to receive a Title IV-E waiver from the federal government. In 2012, the Nebraska Legislature required the state Department of Health and Human Services to apply for this waiver as part of the effort to stabilize and improve our child welfare system. Why?

Instead of most federal dollars being available only for children in out-of-home care, Nebraska will now have flexibility to use a set amount of dollars however it wants within the child welfare system for the next five years.

Not only does this mean that we will have an opportunity to invest in prevention and family preservation, but the waiver project also has additional components that we are really excited about:

  • An evaluation of the outcomes of alternative response and results based accountability, the two reform projects that DHHS has chosen to be part of the waiver.
  • A requirement to reinvest any savings that come from the waiver project in other children’s services.
  • A commitment to improve two additional aspects of our child welfare system: kinship guardianship and the health services provided to children.

**Another nerd opportunity, DHHS has posted the full terms and conditions of the waiver on its website.**

Getting this waiver does not guarantee child welfare reform success, but flexible funding, oversight, accountability, and commitment will make a huge difference for Nebraska kids and families.


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