When it comes to keeping children safe and providing the best possible outcomes for youth in care, one size does not fit all. The alternative response model allows child welfare agencies to divert cases to different response paths in order to address the individual needs of the family.
Under our current model, all accepted reports of child maltreatment must be investigated. On one hand, the number of maltreatment investigations across the state has increased dramatically, while on the other, then number of substantiated cases has grown more slowly. Since the majority of children (83%) come into the attention of DHHS because their families cannot meet the children’s basic needs, the state is spending resources investigating families who would be better served by providing quicker access to much needed services and supports.
This is not to say that investigations into abuse allegations are not necessary. Of the 5,221 current state wards, 1,604 of them were being served in their homes. Under an alternative response system, child welfare agencies have the capacity to respond to allegations of maltreatment in a way that is consistent with the level of risk that the family is facing. When a thorough investigation is required, an alternative response would allow the family to follow the traditional response route. However, when the concern is not as severe, the family’s needs are assessed and services put in place, creating a more productive partnership between the family and the department.
Recently in the media there have been several stories and OpEds about the decrease in the number of state wards. We are pleased to see the numbers of kids in out-of-home care is decreasing, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more work to do to keep these numbers coming down. Alternative response is one of the tools our state needs to ensure fewer kids are coming into the system while still ensuring their safety.
LB 561, which was approved by the Governor in May, requires a study on alternative response by DHHS and the Nebraska’s Children Commission. We hope that DHHS and the Children’s Commission will come to the conclusion that so many states across the country have come to—that in terms of child welfare, one size does not fit all.