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Slow descent in out-of-home care numbers

On Tuesday, Sarah did a great job articulating the notion of “flipping the pyramid” of child welfare. In her blog post, she spoke about Nebraska’s effort to lower its rate of children served in out-of-home care. So we got to thinking: What do the data tell us, historically-speaking, about how many kids enter care each year?

To find out, I opened the master Kids Count database and found data on out-of-home care going back to 1997. There’s good news and bad news, as you can tell by the chart. The good news is that the numbers are decreasing. The bad news? Well, let’s just say that the decrease that has occurred over the past 13 years isn’t exactly dramatic. If you imagine yourself on a bike riding the downhill slope of these trend lines, the velocity probably wouldn’t even blow your hair from your forehead. And there would even be a few spots where you’d have to pedal uphill again.

Analogy aside, Nebraska’s effort to serve more kids in home – instead of removing them from their families at an alarmingly high rate – is generally moving in the right direction. But it’s moving slowly and many kids can’t wait that long for the broken parts to get fixed.

There’s no “right” number of children served in out-of-home care. Chances are it will never reach zero, and it shouldn’t. Some kids just aren’t safe in their own homes. But the research tells us that, despite decreasing numbers of kids in care, Nebraska has a very long way to go before it’s in line with national norms.

We know that progress is sometimes an uphill battle. But even as child welfare reform rolls forward, we must remember the kids first. It’s my hope that one day that slow, downward trend line will take a plunge once more kids are served safely and effectively in their own homes.

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