Letting Kids Be Kids: The Implementation of the Strengthening Families Act in Nebraska

Normalcy means youth in foster care being able to participate in the same age-appropriate developmental experiences as other kids.

Normalcy means youth in foster care being able to participate in the same age-appropriate developmental experiences as other kids.

Important work is underway in Nebraska and nationally to improve “normalcy” for children and youth in foster care.

In September 2014, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (also known as the Strengthening Families Act or SFA). Last week, a group of Nebraska child welfare stakeholders released a report with recommendations on how to best implement the SFA in Nebraska to improve outcomes for children and youth in the foster care system.

The report, “Letting Kids Be Kids: Nebraska’s Implementation of the Strengthening Families Act,” was compiled by the Strengthening Families Act stakeholder group with feedback from more than 300 stakeholders and young people, and it includes recommendations for how the SFA can ensure children and youth in foster care in Nebraska can have the same age- and developmentally-appropriate experiences as other kids that are essential for their healthy development – a practice known as “normalcy.”

The report was presented as part of LR 248, an interim study introduced by State Sen. Kathy Campbell to examine the implementation of the SFA in Nebraska.  At the interim study hearing, Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center, spoke about her experiences growing up in care in California and having the farthest thing from a “normal” childhood. She also shared her experiences as a youth advocate and attorney implementing the pre-SFA normalcy law in California.

Three young adults from Project Everlast, Raevin, Payne and Kayla, also shared the barriers that they faced in foster care to participating in activities such as sports, church, and travel. Additional testifiers included a foster parent, biological parent, the Department of Health and Human Services and child welfare advocates, including Jennifer Pokempner, from the Juvenile Law Center who provided an overview of the SFA and a review of what other states are doing to implement the federal law, and what states can learn from the normalcy laws that were enacted prior to the SFA.  

Following the hearing, Jennifer Rodriguez spoke at a stakeholder lunch, which included a Q&A and time for stakeholder discussion about how we can work together to make normalcy a reality for children and youth in care in Nebraska.

In pursuit of this goal, the stakeholder group will be meeting in the coming months to consider identified issues for further discussion and to continue collaborating to maximize opportunities under the SFA in Nebraska.

For more information on the SFA and the stakeholder recommendations, read the stakeholder report and the fact sheet.  

Check out these pictures and news articles from last week’s SFA events:

Facebook photo album

Lincoln Journal Star – Helping foster kids have normal childhoods is focus of report, federal act

Omaha World-Herald – Report calls for Nebraska to let foster kids have a more normal childhood

Associated Press – Group: State can do more to help foster kids live normally

Nebraska Radio Network – Report urges state to change foster care rules to let kids be kids

KLKN-TV – Lawmakers hear struggles of foster care

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