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One giant leap for child welfare reform?

For over two years Nebraska’s vulnerable children and families, social workers, service providers, and court stakeholders have been stuck. They’ve been stuck in a constantly changing system, enduring sudden transition after sudden transition, newspaper story after newspaper story, contract amendment after contract amendment.

Nebraska’s child welfare system was struggling long before privatization began, but with all the instability important efforts like safely reducing the number of children in out-of-home care or increasing services available to prevent child maltreatment were put on hold to deal with immediate crises. Just last week over 4,700 children’s cases were transferred from KVC in a little over a week. Undoubtedly we’ll be feeling the full effects of this transition on court timelines and caseworker turnover over the next few months.

Despite all the turmoil, it seems that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. In the course of a day and a half last week, the Legislature gave first round approval to a substantial and diverse package of  bills aimed at stabilizing Nebraska’s child welfare system and laying a foundation for reform going forward. While in some ways it was just another day at work for our State Senators, advancing these bills with no opposition is no small feat. Countless hours of work and hearings by the Health and Human Services Committee have helped chart a way forward.

These bills tackle some important systemic issues, like caseload standards which have an important impact on reducing caseworker turnover and improving outcomes for children and families, a new data system, and a stakeholder body that can help guide a strategic planning process. They also pave the way forward for new, innovative reforms including an application for a Title IV-E waiver that can help Nebraska invest in more in-home and preventive services for children and families. A pilot project allowing for privatized case management in the Eastern Service Area will hopefully provide our children with not only needed stability, but also be an opportunity for data collection and evaluation, providing stakeholders the evidence needed to settle the question of “to privatize or not to privatize” in the next year.

With consensus growing on the structures that will guide Nebraska’s road to real child welfare reform over the next few years, this package of bills has the potential to be a needed leap down the path to true child welfare reform. This package of bills is a huge victory for children.

We now have an opportunity to put politics and the past aside and roll up our sleeves and make a better system for children and families. Here at Voices for Children we’re looking forward to building a better child welfare system in the months to come!

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