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Telling the whole story of abuse and neglect in Nebraska

In the world of child welfare, it’s an unfortunate truth that media attention is often centered on individual cases of abuse and neglect, instead of focusing on the bigger picture of what’s happening with kids and families in Nebraska’s child welfare system. This weekend, however, the story in Nebraska was about some of the systemic changes that have taken place in recent years, as well as ones that are on the horizon.

First was a story highlighting three recent reports on child welfare and well-being in the state from the Office of Inspector General for Child Welfare, the Foster Care Review Office, and the Child and Maternal Death Review Team. Each report provides us with some perspective on the state child welfare system through some of the known historical challenges, data trends, recent progress in policy and practice, and further areas of improvement. Regular monitoring of how the needs of the children and families in the system are—or in some cases, are not—met allows us to engage thoughtfully and collaboratively on continuing to work on a better narrative for children in care.

A second story focused specifically on one of the ways in which our state is continuing to move forward for children and families: the Alternative Response (AR) pilot project. With the passage of LB 503 in 2013, the long-awaited rollout was finally underway on the first of this month. AR allows for a more flexible approach in responses to reports of neglect by allowing caseworkers to meaningfully address the challenges that a family may be facing with services and supports. This is a promising change from the traditional response to reports of abuse and neglect, which only allows for an investigation to occur, and should prove to be another step towards keeping children with their families whenever possible.

As we await an exciting season of elections and another legislative session, it’s reassuring that there continues to be active dialogue about how we can build upon past lessons and successes to seek improved outcomes. Alongside some of the recent federal changes in policy, there will be much more to come very soon for Nebraska’s child welfare system!

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