My name is Rob Wisler and I have been interning at Voices For Children for three weeks. In that time I have worked on multiple projects, each one giving me a look at issues that children in Nebraska face. These issues include lack of health insurance, juvenile justice, and the foster care system.
The Affordable Care Act passed on March 23, 2010 and began to take effect in 2013 when health insurance marketplaces opened and Medicaid expansion started to occur in individual states. The United States estimated percentage of uninsured children age 0-17 fell from 6.6% in 2012 to 5.5% in 2014. That figure varies, however, across the country. In Nebraska the estimated percentage of uninsured children has declined from 6% in 2012 to just 5.6% in 2014. In the 51 smallest counties by population, more than 8% of children under the age of 18 do not have health insurance and the percentage has remained relatively level since 2012. Clearly a gap exists between what the Children’s Health Insurance Program covers in Nebraska and private insurance. The next step needs to be discussing expansion of CHIP, and perhaps Medicaid funding if necessary, to fill this gap. More than 20,000 Nebraska children lacking health insurance is clearly not “the good life” that Nebraskans should be proud of.
Nebraska’s Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Kearney and Geneva have been in the news again, and like previously, not for the right reasons. Escapes, riots, and assaults and a lack of transparency by DHHS regarding these incidents are salvos regularly leveled at YRTC-Kearney. While the YRTCs are well-intentioned, they don’t address the root problem of attempting to house youth with different needs. For this reason, Voices for Children recommends that Nebraska move to a more effective, rehabilitative model of smaller regional facilities.
In June, the Foster Care Review Office (FCRO), Nebraska’s independent agency that reviews case plans of children in foster care, released their quarterly report that details goals set and whether or not those goals have been reached. The FCRO splits their population between children in the child welfare system and children in the juvenile justice system (children in both are placed in the child welfare system for the purpose of counting). From October 2015 to April 2016 there was 6.6% increase in out-of-home placements from the child welfare system and in three out of the five past quarters have seen more entries than exits (in the form of permanent adoption, reunification, or aging out of the system) from out-of-home care. These trends, which date back to 2014 but have rapidly increased since 2015, should be a bit discomforting, especially since efforts are beginning to be made to reduce out-of-home placements, but at this point there just isn’t enough data to justify panic and sweeping change. This is something that needs to continue to be monitored moving forward, however.
When I started at Voices I knew that all three of these areas needed attention, but after researching and working with data I now fully understand the depth of the problems that these three state institutions face. It’s time for the rest of Nebraska to see what still needs to be done so that children involved in these programs experience “the good life” too.