This spring, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its most recent federal review of Nebraska’s foster care system. Nebraska’s foster care system was previously reviewed in 2002 and, while none of the 50 states were in full compliance with federal standards at that time, Nebraska was ranked among the worst-performing states. Nebraska made some positive gains in the second round review, but still failed to achieve substantial conformity in many of the same outcomes as in 2002.
For example, Nebraska continues to do a poor job of protecting children from abuse and neglect and providing permanency and stability for children. The review also noted that Nebraska is not consistent in achieving reunification, placement with relatives, or timely adoptions for children or in maintaining extended family, cultural and community connections. Furthermore, the review noted that case plans are not developed jointly with parents and are not filed in a timely manner and that there are waiting lists for many services and gaps in services statewide. Because the state was not in substantial conformity in all of the areas assessed, Nebraska is again required to develop and implement a program improvement plan (PIP) or could face federal financial penalties.
Appleseed was involved in several aspects of the federal review process, including providing feedback on the state’s self-assessment document, attending a stakeholder interview, and participating in the development of the PIP. We appreciate the state’s efforts to involve stakeholder groups in this process and believe this increased communication has been a positive development.
Despite these improvements, it is disheartening to see many of the same issues – that profoundly affect foster children in our state – still unaddressed six years later. Many of these issues, such as relative placement, access to services, and preserving cultural connections, are and have been priority issues for us at Appleseed. Therefore, with this report as further confirmation of the work that needs to be done, we will continue to advocate for these issues to be addressed: in hearing rooms at the Legislature, in juvenile courtrooms across the state, and by engaging the voices of every day Nebraskans on behalf of our next generation. We will continue to push for these issues to be prioritized and for reform to be structured in a way so that, at the time of the next federal review, Nebraska is in the best position to achieve positive outcomes for all children.