During last week’s first round of debate on the package of child welfare bills, Lincoln Senator Bill Avery noticed the apparent absence of the usual lobbyists in the State Capitol’s rotunda. As noted by Senator Avery, there “are no highly paid lobbyists working on behalf of kids.” While Nebraska Appleseed, Voices for Children, and some other child advocates were present, many agencies serving children are kept too busy with day-to-day demands and lack the resources needed to effectively engage in lobbying.
Wednesday’s second round debate was a different story. This time, a number of the youth themselves could be found amidst the lobbyists. Coming from as far as Grand Island, several members of Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s Project Everlast took time away from school and work to spend their morning at the Capitol. Project Everlast is made up of a group of young people with experience in the foster care system — precisely the group that would be affected by these bills. The youth listened to debate and, with assistance from Nebraska Appleseed’s Director of Public Policy and registered lobbyist, Jennifer Carter, were able to pull their senators off the floor to share their perspectives on the bills. Senators Kathy Campbell and Amanda McGill also recognized their presence during the debate, and the youth were given a heartfelt round of applause by the legislative body. Later, Senator Amanda McGill made her first visit to the gallery to personally greet the youth and thank them for coming. The youth also had the opportunity to share their perspectives with the media in a story that appeared in the Omaha World Herald.
All five of the child welfare bills advanced from Select File yesterday unopposed.
It is imperative that the voices of youth are included in every step of the reform process. We are grateful that the HHS Committee has done so by involving youth in the LR 37 interim study hearings and by specifically including a youth representative on the proposed Children’s Commission in LB 821. Additionally, we are pleased that the Committee has expressed their intention of including a focus on issues impacting youth aging out of care in the bill’s proposed child welfare strategic plan. We believe reform of the system must help address the challenges many of these youth face in the transition to adulthood.
As lawmakers continue dedicating their efforts to improving a struggling child welfare system, the faces of Project Everlast serve as an important reminder of exactly why they cannot fail.