Dear Fellow Nebraskans:
The state of our state's child welfare system is an important issue for many reasons. Anytime you are dealing with a situation where a child is removed from their family and home, it is a difficult situation. As a result, the child welfare system will not be a perfect system; however we are looking for ways to improve the lives of these children every day.
There is an overriding issue that is of particular concern. Nebraska's rate of out-of-home care for children is twice the national average and in a family-friendly state like Nebraska, that just doesn't make sense.
A number of factors impact the status of children in our child welfare system, including law enforcement, the courts, the Department of Health and Human Services, child welfare service providers, parents, child advocacy agencies, foster parents and our laws. The responsibility for ensuring the safety and well-being of Nebraska's children is a shared responsibility.
The recently-appointed Nebraska Children's Commission met last month to begin reviewing potential improvements to the system. They will meet monthly to discuss child welfare issues.
At their first meeting, I encouraged them to make sure their process is very open and fully transparent. The Commission members have a limited time to accomplish a significant number of tasks.
The Commission has the responsibility to assist the Department of Health and Human Services in the development of a strategic plan to continue the reform of the state's child welfare system which must be completed by December 15th. The Commission will also provide advice and input to the Department regarding the structure of the Division of Children and Families.
You can follow the deliberations of the Children's Commission by visiting the Department of Health and Human Services website at http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/ChildrensCommission.aspx . They will meet monthly through November and will make critical recommendations that could have a long-term impact on our child welfare system.
As the Commission continues its work, they will also need to be aware of the costs of their recommendations and the strategic plan. The more the state spends on our welfare system, the less funding we have for our K-12 schools and higher education.
I want to emphasize the good work of our caseworkers as they watch out for the best interests of the children and families who are part of the child welfare system. It's not an easy job and there are no simple solutions.
There are too many children being placed into the child welfare system. Generally, it is more effective and the results are better when children and families are served in their homes versus services provided to children outside their home.
The Department of Health and Human Services and I are focused on improving the child welfare system. If you have suggestions or ideas on how to improve the system, please send me an email at Dave.Heineman@nebraska.gov.