Late last week, the Nebraska Children’s Commission, created by LB 821, released its Phase I Strategic Plan for Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Reform. The Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee of the Legislature will likely rely heavily on this strategic plan as they continue to work on improving Nebraska’s foster care system this coming Legislative Session.
In their report, members of the Commission focused on identifying the components of a system of care that would “improve the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families across the State of Nebraska.” The Commission developed four broad goal statements, and recommendations within them, to help Nebraska move towards this vision:
1. Encourage timely access to effective services through community ownership of child well-being
- In this goal, the Commission stresses the importance of building a foundation to improve child well-being, including efforts from public and private funders, community collaboratives, and the general public. The Commission also recommends mapping current community resources and services and identifying gaps and unmet needs.
2. Support a family-driven, child-focused, and flexible system of care through transparent system collaboration with shared partnerships and ownership
- This goal discusses the need for a shared commitment to child well-being, an investment in prevention, and an increased emphasis on trauma-informed care. As part of this goal, the Commission recommends developing a differential response system, which would create a new pathway for responding to some child abuse and neglect reports and a more collaborative response to working with families.
3. Utilize technological solutions to information exchange and ensure measured results across systems of care
- This goal focuses on improving the data system Nebraska currently uses to collect and share child welfare and juvenile justice data. The Commission recommends partnering with local universities for cost-effective data analysis, developing mutually agreed upon outcomes, and designing common data systems to track and measure these outcomes.
4. Foster a consistent, stable, skilled workforce serving children and families
- The Commission’s final goal calls for Nebraska to address its high caseworker turnover rates by developing retention plans, improving morale and organizational culture, and preventing casework from being an entry level position. The Commission also recommends developing a pilot project for guardians ad litem.
Additional recommendations were made by subcommittees within the Commission, including increasing oversight of the use of psychotropic medications with children and youth in foster care, applying for a Title IV-E Demonstration Project, and raising reimbursement rates for foster parents.
Nebraska Appleseed is optimistic about these goals, but the specifics of how to implement these recommendations will be equally important. The Commission is clear that this report is Phase I of a multiphase reform process, so the work to improve Nebraska’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems is only just beginning. Developing concrete strategies and laying the legislative and administrative groundwork to put these ideas into practice is likely to be a complicated and challenging process. It will be important for the Commission, the HHS Committee of the Legislature, and other key stakeholders and advocates to work together, continue asking questions, and drill down further to move Nebraska’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems in the right direction.
In addition, Nebraska Appleseed is hopeful that the needs of older youth and the issue of minority disproportionality will also be a focus of reform efforts as we move forward. Both are briefly mentioned in the strategic plan, and Nebraska Appleseed believes them to be critical issues for our state as the second phase of the strategic planning process begins with the start of the 2013 Legislative Session.
To learn more, read the entire report or other recent reports submitted to the Nebraska Legislature:
- Recommendations regarding Foster Care Reimbursement Rates and Level of Care Assessment Tools (LB 820)
- Recommendations to Address Barriers to Title IV-E Participation and Reimbursement and the Title IV-E Waiver Application Implementation Plan and Timeline (LB 820)
- Nebraska Cross-Systems Analysis: Final Report (LB 821)
- Assessment of Child Welfare Services in Nebraska (LB 1160)
- Access to Services for Individuals with Co-Occurring Diagnoses (LB 1160)
- Child Welfare Information System Strategic Plan (LB 1160)
- The Nebraska Foster Care Review Office Annual Report
Read Nebraska Appleseed’s Child Welfare Reform Priorities submitted to the Children’s Commission.