April 11, 2017
Contact, Jeff Sheldon
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
(402) 438-8853 (office)
(402) 840-7289 (cell)
Governor’s proposed cuts would lead to more deaths in child welfare system
High caseloads and lack of family support will put even more kids’ lives at risk
LINCOLN — Advocating for reform in the child welfare system means fighting to protect our most vulnerable Nebraskans. However, drastic budget cuts to the child welfare system proposed by Governor Pete Ricketts would put the lives of many Nebraska children at risk, child welfare experts said Tuesday.
At a Tuesday press conference at the State Capitol, child welfare officials and advocates detailed how the Governor’s cuts proposed to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee threaten to roll back progress made over the last several years to improve a system that notoriously lacked resources to adequately serve vulnerable children and families and would put more children’s lives at risk.
The cuts total nearly $15 million and would shift the responsibility for thousands of foster care cases to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which already lacks the resources and staff to adequately ensure the safety and stability of at-risk families.
“All of us here know that the child welfare system in Nebraska has been in a state of instability since 2009 with the failed attempt at privatization,” said Kim Hawekotte, Executive Director of the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office. “In the past two years, we had started to see positive trends and hope for improvements, but current decisions will impact any hope for this continued improvement. While understanding and being sensitive to the fiscal situation of this State, we cannot and should not put this on the backs of our children. These proposed cuts and increases for other areas of the State threaten the State’s ability to maintain the already shaky status quo – much less improve.”
“Under the Governor’s proposal, caseworkers in DHHS would be asked to take on even more responsibilities, when the state is already out of compliance with statutory caseload standards,” Nebraska Appleseed Child Welfare Director Sarah Helvey said. “This despite repeated recommendations from the Inspector General in light of several cases that resulted in the death or serious injury of children involved in the system in which high caseloads and workforce issues were cited as a factor.”
Former State Senator Amanda McGill Johnson, currently the Community Impact & Strategic Initiative Director for the Nebraska Children’s Home Society, said maintaining resources for the proven-successful Right Turn program is essential for the budget. Right Turn was formed in the wake of the safe haven law passed by the Legislature in 2008.
Safe haven exposed the unmet behavioral health needs of youth in the system when parents and caregivers relinquished custody of at-risk youth, over 75 percent of whom were in adoptive or guardianship homes. Right Turn provides valuable resources and support to guardianship and adoptive families that have led to 99 percent of participating families staying together.
The Governor’s proposal would have eliminated the Right Turn program, however the Appropriations Committee has included Right Turn in their budget.
“Right Turn is one of the most successful programs the Legislature created during my eight years in office. Eliminating it make zero sense and will lead to families being torn apart,” McGill Johnson said. “We learned hard and devastating lessons during safe haven and the failed privatization of the child welfare system. We’ve made great progress since then, but these cuts put that all at great risk.”
Lincoln’s Sara Bair, whose family includes three foster children, said trying to get the necessary resources and tools from DHHS often proved difficult and overwhelming. Bair said receiving support from an outside agency, CEDARS of Lincoln, has been essential to making sure she can provide a safe and loving home to all of her children. These resources would be greatly reduced by the proposed cuts.
“We’ve seen in Nebraska before that when foster or adoptive parents feel overwhelmed, then it ends up being the kids that suffer,” Bair said. “We can’t let this happen again. Cutting funding to kinship providers will mean fewer kids will be looked after by people they know, trust, and love.”
For more information, contact Nebraska Appleseed Communications Director Jeff Sheldon at (402) 438-8853 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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