The Nebraska Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony March 7 on two bills introduced by Sen. Kate Bolz that would make a profound difference for Nebraska children and families.
LB 332: Closing gaps in support for young people entering adulthood
The first child welfare bill discussed, LB 332, would allow more young adults to access the Bridge to Independence (B2I) program, repairing two gaps in the intended coverage.
B2I provides extended support, including a monthly stipend, health care, and case management, for young people who age out of foster care until they turn 21 years old. Nebraska is one of 22 states to offer this option, which has been proven successful in helping young people make a more successful transition into adulthood, including maintaining stable housing and pursuing education and career goals. LB 322 makes improvements to the current program, including extending B2I eligibility for young adults who were adopted at age 16 or older and for those whose guardianship was disrupted at age 16 or older.
LB 322: At the hearing
In addition to child welfare advocates who testified in support of the proposal, Rodney, a B2I participant voiced his support, sharing his personal experience with the program. Rodney is a student at the University of Nebraska where he studies political science. He discussed how the B2I program has supported him throughout various aspects of his life, from applying for scholarships and other financial matters to understanding how to navigate health care and doctor’s appointments.
LB 328: Prevention is worth a pound of cure
The afternoon closed with a hearing on LB 328 that would bring to Nebraska numerous benefits of one of the most significant federal child welfare reforms in a generation – the federal bipartisan Families First Prevention Services Act (Family First Act).
The Family First Act allows states to draw down federal funding for a wide array of prevention and family preservation services, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, for children at risk of entering foster care and their parents, and for pregnant and parenting foster youth. This dovetails nicely with the direction Nebraska’s child welfare system has been heading in recent years.
A decade ago, our state had one of the highest rates of children in out-of-home care per capita of any state in the country. Since then, Nebraska has done a lot of work to shift toward serving more children outside the foster care system and with their own families. LB 328 would support this progress by helping ensure families are receiving concrete prevention services and supports and there is a clear oversight process for non-court involved, or voluntary, foster care cases, which now make up about half of the cases in the child welfare system.
LB 328: At the hearing
Among key matters, testifiers stressed the importance of preventing trauma caused by removing children from their homes – which may often be more detrimental than the challenges a family is facing – and identifying family members to provide care when parents receive treatment.
Supporters of the bill represented child welfare advocacy agencies and service providers. In addition, Vernon Davis, co-chair of the Strengthening Families Act Committee, shared his insights from his experience in foster care. Vernon told legislators that he believes his family’s experience with the child welfare system would have been less traumatic if LB 328 existed. Reinforcing other testifiers statements about the proposals ability to strengthen kinship care, Vernon stressed how being able to receive care from a close family member would have been a beneficial support during his time in the child welfare system.
Both LB 332 and LB 328 offer Nebraska an opportunity to continue down a path of improving its child welfare system, in part by maintaining a strong focus on services and supports, reducing foster care placements, and setting young people up for success in adulthood.
Contact the Health and Human Services Committee members. Urge them to support Nebraska children and families by advancing both proposals to the full legislature for debate.