Last week, just a few days after attending the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT conference in Baltimore with hundreds of child advocates from across the country, I found myself in a much smaller room in Washington D.C. for the convening of the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC) peer learning network.
SPARC serves as an invaluable resource for national and state-level efforts in child welfare policy with a proactive agenda to address some of the core challenges of the child welfare system. The SPARC network, which now includes representatives from 25 states, offers a unique space for dialogue on child welfare-specific communications, advocacy strategies, and policy guidance.
The initial discussion of recent events and upcoming strategies in each state made it clear that although child welfare policy reform is extremely complicated and filled with challenges, there have also been many successes throughout the years. Across the country, progress has taken shape in the form of inter-agency collaboration, increased youth and family input, and improved data systems, to name a few.
Nebraska has had its share of child welfare victories just in this last legislative session, with the long-awaited rollout of the alternative response pilot project (LB 503), as well as the creation of a statutory framework for permanent guardianships (LB 908). From the national landscape, there’s much more work to be done in improving outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system.
H.R. 4980, which passed this September, is the most important piece of federal child welfare legislation since Fostering Connections in 2008 and has offered us some insight on where we can continue to improve as a state. The bill offers guidance and requires changes on normalcy in foster care, incentivizes promising permanency practices, and strengthens data collection systems. As more detailed guidance on the specific provisions of the bill are issued, stakeholders and communities have another opportunity to continue their leadership in ensuring that all kids in Nebraska grow up in safe and loving families. Stay tuned!