Newsroom > DHHS News Release

October 13, 2009

Jeanne Atkinson, Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-8287


DHHS Making Progress in Finding Permanent Homes For Children Who are State Wards

Lincoln – Efforts to move children who are state wards to permanency through reunification with their family, adoption or guardianship are having an impact, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’ve seen data showing Nebraska ranks second highest in the nation in removing children from their homes, and we all agree too many children are in the state’s care,” said Todd Reckling, director of the Division of Children and Family Services in DHHS. “We began aggressively addressing this issue a couple of years ago along with our system partners and are seeing positive results in achieving measurable outcomes. We have much more work to do, but we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

For example:

  • The number of children in the state’s care continues to go down from an all-time high of 7,803 in April 2006 to 6,348 in September 2009 as we safely move more children to permanency.
  • Adoptions for children who were state wards are up 92.6% since 2003, with an all-time high of 572 in 2008.
  • More children are safely leaving the state’s care than entering it for the third year in a row.
  • Nebraska is leading the nation in establishing permanency for children in foster care for long periods of time.

A recent report released by the Platte Institute confirms that too many children come into foster care. DHHS is in the midst of a child welfare reform that aims to accomplish much of what the Platte Institute recommends, according to Reckling. The Platte Institute for Economic Research is a non-profit foundation based in Omaha, NE.

“We take our responsibility to children and families very seriously and consider how best to meet their needs and carefully balance the funding we receive and taxpayers’ ability to pay,” said Kerry Winterer, CEO of DHHS. “I appreciate the Legislature’s funding of LB 603 this year in light of budget constraints. We’re excited about the resulting new services we’re able to put in place.”

LB 603 has resulted in the following achievements:

  • Contracts for the family Helpline and the Navigator Program will be signed this month, with services starting January 1, 2010.
  • The post adoption/post guardianship services contract will be signed this month, with services starting January 1, 2010.
  • A Request for Proposal to evaluate all three programs was released in September 2009. $500,000 has already gone to the six Behavioral Health Regions for the Professional Partner program and similar services. Next year, the Regions will get $1 million to provide these services.
  • As of September 2009, children up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level are eligible for Medicaid (up from 185%).

Reckling outlined the Division’s planned approach to safely reducing the number of children in the state’s custody by accelerating the reform of Nebraska’s child welfare system and improving the state’s performance on the federal Children and Family Services Review:

  • By Spring 2008, the Division had fully implemented the Safety Intervention System to do a more thorough analysis of safety threats to determine if a child is safe or unsafe. The Safety Intervention System will help CFS reduce the number of children in out-of-home care and provide safety services to allow more children to remain safely in their home.
  • In January 2008, the Divisions of Children and Family Services, Behavioral Health, and Medicaid and Long-term Care put a five-year plan in place to realign services by 2012, focusing more on prevention, early intervention and wrap-around services. Historically, 70% of the children who are wards were placed outside their home. One of the Division’s goals is to ‘flip’ this around so 70% of children are served in their own homes by 2012.
  • In July 2008, the Division contracted with five lead agencies to provide safety and in-home services to CFS clients, improving accountability and how services are purchased. Previously there were over 100 separate contracts.
  • In September 2008, the Division launched a reform of out-of-home care, calling for a significant change in how it serves children and families. Implementation begins in November 2009, with full implementation by April 2010. Reform will result in better outcomes for children and families, a more responsive and accountable child welfare and juvenile services system, and better oversight of contractors by CFS.

“The great collaboration we’ve experienced with all our partners in the child welfare and juvenile services system helps us continue making improvements in safety, permanency and well-being outcomes for children and families,” said Reckling.

Nebraska’s court system is a good example of that collaboration, he said. In September 2006, the Nebraska Supreme Court sponsored the first “Through the Eyes of a Child” conference to study better ways to handle children who find themselves in the court system, and held their most recent Children’s Summit in September 2009. A network made up of 25 local teams is introducing best practices into their local court systems while collaborating with DHHS and other partners. Another initiative, the Supreme Court Commission on Children, focuses on how the court system responds to cases involving abused or neglected children.