Last month, the Nebraska Children’s Commission announced the release of the Nebraska Child Welfare Blueprint Report. The report, authored by ChildFocus, outlines a pathway to continue progress in our state’s child welfare system based on interviews with a diverse group of stakeholders, including Voices for Children.
The Blueprint reflects on recent reform efforts and important opportunities to make additional improvements for children and families in our state child welfare system. Our collective vision for an effective child welfare system is one that is responsive to the needs of children and families across the continuum—from prevention through post-permanency. All the while, the Nebraska Legislature is considering a number of important decisions that would represent a significant setback to recent progress.
In an effort to close the state’s $900 million budget gap, the Appropriations Committee has been deliberating a number of cuts to state agencies for FY 2017-19. The committee issued its preliminary budget recommendations in February and largely restored many of the cuts that were proposed in the Executive Budget and the Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) budget request. In a recent hearing, senators heard from many who opposed the cuts, but the committee has yet to issue a final budget recommendation, and alarming cuts to our state foster care system remain on the table, including:
- Reducing referrals of relative and kinship placements to child-placing agencies for support by 50%. The Blueprint notes that kinship foster care placements have increased substantially in recent years, to nearly half of all placements in 2015. Instead of cuts in this area, Nebraska’s next steps should be to ensure that kinship caregivers receive “specialized training and support to address the unique challenges of assuming responsibility for children with little notice and dealing with some of the complex emotions involved with caring for a family member’s child.”
- Eliminating funding for post-adoption and post-guardianship supports, which are currently offered through Right Turn. This important investment began in the wake of the 2008 Safe Haven crisis, and The Blueprint wisely recommends that Right Turn and other services that build community networks for families are a crucial piece of an effective child welfare system.
Proposals to cut funding have suggested that services will be shifted to already-overburdened DHHS staff. This recommendation is particularly concerning in light of evidence that DHHS has consistently been unable to meet statutory caseload standards, with the Office of Inspector General reporting last year that 22 cases that resulted in the death or serious injury of children in the state’s care were directly related to this issue. The Blueprint advises that “child welfare system improvements cannot be fully realized until caseload and turnover issues are addressed.”
Nebraska’s current fiscal climate is concerning to us all. We at Voices for Children believe that cuts to our child welfare system, in combination with other proposals that would permanently reduce state revenue streams, is a short-sighted plan that does not reflect Nebraska values. A holistic view of our future, as illustrated in The Blueprint, suggests that we cannot afford to continually underinvest in the needs of abused and neglected children.
We urge you to join us in voicing your concerns about prioritizing Nebraska’s most vulnerable children in our state budget. Find your senator’s contact information here, and give them a call TODAY!
View the full report here.