Newsroom > DHHS News Release

For Immediate Release
December 1, 2017

Russ Reno, Communications and Legislative Services, (office) 402-471-8287 or (cell) 402-450-7318 or 

Feds Rate Parts of Child Welfare System
Good; Other Areas Need Improvement


Lincoln – Nebraska released Thursday (11/30) a federal report assessing the state’s child welfare system showing that of 36 areas of measurement, eight areas were determined as strengths, which places the system solidly in the middle of the results that 22 other states received.

Called the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR), the third review since 2002 covers all aspects of Nebraska’s system from the involvement of police and the courts, to the Department of Health and Human Services, to the providers of services to children and families across the state. The review was conducted by the Children’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

“The CFSR is not a pass-fail process, and instead is a continuous quality and improvement process indicating what we already knew were the state’s strengths and weaknesses in the child welfare system,” said Matt Wallen, director of Children and Family Services (CFS) in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. “The report confirms the work we’ve been doing to improve processes so children can achieve safety, permanency in a loving home, and well-being.”

Of the 22 other states, 10 had fewer areas given high marks in the federal review than Nebraska. Massachusetts had the fewest with three, and Delaware and Washington, D.C. the most at 15. How well the states fared follows: 

  • Massachusetts – 3
  • North Carolina – 4
  • Oregon – 5
  • Georgia – 6
  • Minnesota – 6
  • New York – 6
  • California – 7
  • Indiana – 7
  • Florida – 7
  • New Mexico – 7
  • Kentucky – 8
  • Nebraska – 8
  • North Dakota – 9
  • Oklahoma – 9
  • Texas – 9
  • Wyoming – 10
  • Arkansas – 11
  • Vermont – 11
  • Arizona – 12
  • South Dakota – 12
  • Kansas – 13
  • Delaware – 15
  • Washington, D.C. – 15

The first 18 areas of federal measurement comprise what the Children’s Bureau calls CFSR Outcomes. Nebraska was found not to be in conformity in the federal review with those seven outcomes. In the second 18 areas, which comprise Systemic Factors, Nebraska was in conformity with four.

“This review of Nebraska’s child welfare system compliments our own CQI process and helps to focus our team on areas needing more attention,” Wallen said. “Our own analysis leading up to the final report has us already working in some areas to make improvements, so we have a jump on the process.”

Fifty-seven federal reviewers in June analyzed 65 of about 5,500 open cases and interviewed more than 200 stakeholders about the performance of Nebraska’s child welfare system in child abuse and neglect prevention, foster care, adoption guardianship, independent living, and family preservation and reunification.

“While this review covers just over 1 percent of open cases, we’ll still use it in the work we’re already doing to improve services,” Wallen said. “Our more robust CQI process has already set us on a course to address the areas mentioned in the review.”

The report cited several strengths in Nebraska’s child welfare system, including:

  • A commitment in recent years to CQI by the Division of Children and Family Services (CFS) at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has been integral to driving changes, and CFS demonstrates a willingness to be transparent, identify needs, examine root causes behind the data, and works with external partners to find solutions.
  • Structured Decision Making (SDM) is used effectively to assess risk and safety throughout the life of cases and addresses well-being needs for children and parents.
  • Family team meetings contribute to a more holistic understanding of children and parents’ needs.
  • There are strong practices in many areas of casework, such as foster care where children’s needs (particularly medical and dental needs) and in maintaining connections for children in foster care.
  • Placing siblings together was seen as a strength.
  • Addressing the education needs of children also is a strength.
  • The report also praised CFS’ initial and ongoing staff training and training for foster and adoptive parents.

Key areas for improvement in the various disciplines in the state’s child welfare system include:

  • A lack of resources and services, especially western Nebraska.
  • The report had concerns that the lack of timely filing of termination of parental rights petitions, delays in permanency hearings and periodic reviews contributed to untimely permanency for children.
  • While the placement of children was considered stable in most cases, in other cases more support was needed for caregivers.
  • Uneven practices in dealing with cases was found especially in in-home placement cases. Safety and risk assessments do not include all children in the family, and need to be completed at important times during the case, such as when cases close.
  • The report questioned whether services are being tailored for the needs of children and families, especially non-English-speaking families. Translation services also need to be examined for how well they assist families.

CFSRs of Nebraska’s child welfare system also were conducted in 2002 and 2008. At each review, requirements become more stringent and states typically fall short and must develop plans to improve. The requirements of the two previous plans were all met by making incremental improvements in the identified areas, and Wallen vowed they will be completed in the new plan, too.

The federal reviewers presented their report Wednesday (11/29) to a meeting called by CFS of stakeholders across the state who will provide input to Nebraska’s plan to submit to the Children’s Bureau for approval. Among the 200 in attendance were 112 organizations and individuals invited to take part, including:  judges, attorneys, guardian ad litems, biological parents, foster and adoptive parents, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Native American tribes, child and domestic abuse groups, state appointed bodies, Inspector General for Child Welfare, advocacy organizations, state senators, foundations and more than 40 service providers.

Thursday (11/30) the group met to begin identifying how the state can improve its services to children and families. They developed ideas to address individual areas pinpointed in the report for improvement. The state has 90 days to complete the plan. Once the Children’s Bureau approves Nebraska’s plan, the state has two years to accomplish the improvements.

The Children’s Bureau CFSR report can be found at: