The Children’s Commission’s first meeting had only just begun yesterday afternoon when Governor Heineman mentioned his concern over how much child welfare services were costing the state.
He talked about the need for reform within existing resources and also mentioned that the dollars Nebraska spends on child welfare are dollars that we can’t spend on K-12 education. (In case you were wondering, Nebraska spent over half a billion dollars more on K-12 education in 2011 than on child welfare).
On the one hand, the Governor is right. Nebraska can do more to maximize resources and spend them intelligently in the child welfare arena.
We need to ensure we’re accessing all available federal dollars to ensure children’s safety, permanency, and well-being. We also know that the costs of out-of-home care are much more than those of a prevention program or spending on supports to keep families together after involvement with the system. Yet our system is slanted towards using and paying for out-of-home care.
On the other hand, cost really shouldn’t be our primary consideration when talking about system reform.
That’s what happened with our failed privatization effort. We went looking for cost savings and not what Nebraska’s children need and deserve to keep them safe. It should also go without saying that if children aren’t safe, they’re not going to be able to effectively learn, grow, and develop, no matter what we spend on K-12 education.
For once Nebraska needs to think first about what children and families need to succeed.
System transformation takes resources. We can’t expect a prevention-based, child and family oriented child welfare system to spring up overnight in Nebraska with no additional dollars being spent at least initially.
The good news for taxpayers, however, is that smart investments in evidence-based approaches to caring for children and families yields savings later on. Take just one example: Home visiting programs have been shown to return up to $5.70 to the taxpayers for every dollar spent.
We agree that we should be careful about how we spend the finite number of dollars we have in Nebraska for children’s safety. But our children and families have been through enough in the past few years. They deserve to be put first in the effort for system reform. It just so happens that once we put their needs first and make strategic investments in key programs, our taxpayers will also benefit.