Earlier this week, we discussed the change in Nebraska’s child welfare system and how it has reduced the number of children who are state wards. In the past year, Nebraska has experienced a decline in the number of children who enter the child welfare system as state wards, but the total number of children entering the child welfare system has actually increased slightly. This means that while the number of children being identified as having been abused or neglected is not changing, the way that state is ensuring their safety has. More children are now involved with the child welfare system without court involvement (“non-court” cases), which typically means that they are allowed to stay in their home while their family receives intervention services.
Based on the rise of children entering the system in non-court cases, we thought it would be interesting to see if there is any significant trend based on age. When looking at the data we see that for every age year (with the exception of 18-year-olds), the percent of children entering the system as state wards has decreased. This means that the state’s reliance on out-of-home care for kids has lessened regardless of the child’s age. But, when looking further an interesting trend appears.
Younger children are much more likely to be served without court involvement, while older children are classified as state wards at much higher rates. The graphs above show the trends of non-court children vs. state wards by age of the child. The juxtaposition between the two when comparing older children with younger children is striking.
We can’t pinpoint the exact reasons for the trend without more detailed data, but we can make some educated guesses as to what is happening. The numbers include youth who are Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) wards. Older youth are more likely to be court involved and made OJS wards in order to access juvenile justice services or be sent to the Youth Rehabilitation Centers at Kearney and Geneva as a result of their own behavior. In younger children, neglect is easier to identify and changes in the system are likely serving more of those children in their homes.
Why do you think that older children are more likely to enter the child welfare system as state wards, and younger children are more likely to receive services without court involvement?