One of my first blog posts this summer focused on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Servicesâ€™ release of its most recent federal review of Nebraskaâ€™s foster care system.Â As a result of the stateâ€™s failure to pass the federal review, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS) is required to develop and implement a program improvement plan (PIP) or could face federal financial penalties. Last week, I was asked to provide feedback on the final draft of the PIP.Â I greatly appreciated this and other opportunities NDHHS has provided Appleseed and other stakeholder groups to be involved in the federal review process and informed about the current foster care reforms in the state.Â In reviewing the PIP and reflecting on these reforms, however, I was again struck by the tall order of reforms that are in the works for Nebraskaâ€™s foster care system.
For example, the PIP itself outlines over 50 pages of strategies designed to improve the stateâ€™s foster care outcomes.Â Then, on October 1st, the state will hand over the provision of out-of-home services to a group of contracted private providers across the state.Â This is the second major step in a reform effort that will privatize child welfare services in Nebraska.Â The first step occurred in July 2008 when five private providers began contracts for the provision of in-home services.Â This reform coincided with a new safety model which seeks to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care and provide services on a voluntary basis to families if safety can be assured.Â Last but not least, this spring, the Legislature passed LB 603, a package of legislation intended as a first step in addressing issues brought to light by the safe haven law.
It is a critical time for foster care reform in the state of Nebraska, yet I am not sure this moment has caught the attention of the general public.Â Advocates and providers are in the thick of it, but I donâ€™t know that the majority of Nebraskans or, most importantly, affected children and families are fully aware of all that is happening.Â Nebraskaâ€™s child welfare system, for better or for worse, will look much different in the coming weeks and months.
While Appleseed has long supported comprehensive reform of Nebraskaâ€™s foster care system, we need to make sure we do it right.Â We support efforts â€“ included in many of these reforms â€“ to safely reduce the high number of children in out-of-home care, to provide increased accountability in the system, to require evidence-based promising practices, and to expand the capacity of existing local providers.Â However, to be successful, reform must set forth details and clearly delineate responsibilities, it must protect the safety of children and the rights of families, and, importantly, it requires the commitment of resources in the right places.Â At this point, I fear these issues are not clearly addressed by the reform plans.Â Nebraskaâ€™s foster care system is taking on a lot in a short amount of time.Â We need change, but we canâ€™t afford to do this wrong.Â Many Nebraska children and families will be experiencing these changes firsthand in the coming months.Â During this period of transition and beyond, the state must ensure that the reforms help and not hurt.