At Voices for Children, we are committed to telling the whole story when it comes to Nebraska’s children and the systems that serve them. This isn’t an easy job and it’s especially tricky when it comes to the child welfare system.
Our child welfare system has a whole host of different actors, agencies, and policies. It’s incredibly complex and difficult to understand. In fact, it seems the only thing that is clear is that our child welfare system isn’t serving children and families well. How to fix it and what’s wrong – that’s much harder to establish.
For much of the last two years, the discussion amongst lawmakers, stakeholders, and advocates alike has been focused on privatization of child welfare services and case management. It’s been described as the key to improving child welfare and it’s been described as exactly what’s wrong with child welfare in Nebraska, responsible for instability in children and families lives.
The truth is it’s neither. Our child welfare system in Nebraska has been broken for a very long time. It’s been underfunded for a very long time. It hasn’t been transparent or accountable to stakeholders for a very long time. It’s been unintentionally harming too many children and families for a very long time. Privatization of services hasn’t had a chance to fix any of these problems because of all the implementation challenges due to a lack of planning, adequate funding, and utilization of best practices and lessons learned from other states. What privatization has done is attracted attention and turned a very bright spotlight on just how bad things are for Nebraska’s vulnerable and often forgotten children and families.
Last week a number of media stories featured Senators taking issue with another $1.8 million payment to a child welfare contractor. While they are absolutely right to be frustrated with the lack of planning and transparency with additional payments to contractors, these are more than anything an acknowledgment of just how much we’ve been literally short-changing our families and children for years. Ultimately, this is 1.8 million more dollars that will go to serve our most vulnerable, and that’s not a bad thing.
With many legislators calling this the “session of children” we need to take a step back, remember that our children’s futures are at stake. We cannot afford to continue to react and respond quickly with short term solutions that potentially do more harm to children and families and don’t address the underlying issues, especially a lack of adequate and properly directed funding.
Our state’s most vulnerable children and families have been faced with a huge number of transitions and changes. The question we should all ask ourselves as bills are introduced and more transitions are put forward is whether or not they contribute to stability and positive outcomes for Nebraska’s kids in both the short- and long-term. We appreciate all the work that the Health and Human Services Committee has done, but the verdict is still out on what the best next steps are for children, and what should be done with case management.
We need to have a clear picture of both the intended and unintended consequences of any action and how it will affect the kids we intend to help. It’s time for all of us – legislators, the Governor, department officials, providers, and advocates – to roll up our sleeves, find solutions, and most importantly, finance them.