Newsroom > DHHS News Release

For Immediate Release
Aug. 25, 2014

Contact Russ Reno, Communications and Legislative Services,
402-471-8287 / 402-450-7318,

Program to Help Former Wards Transition to Adulthood

Lincoln— Bridge to Independence, the program that will help former state wards transition to adulthood who age out of state custody at 19, was approved by the federal government Thursday (8/21) and it will be launched by Oct. 20, according to Thomas Pristow, director of Children and Family Services (CFS) in the Department of Health and Human Services.

An amendment to CFS’ Title IV-E foster care plan was signed by the Children’s Bureau in the U.S. Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that allows federal funding for Bridge to Independence, he said.
 Legislation passed in 2013 and 2014 authorized the program but approval by the federal government was necessary before it could begin.

“Bridge to Independence enables us to provide resources that most young people inherently receive from their parents at this critical stage in their life,” said DHHS CEO Kerry Winterer. “Through our program, we hope to help former wards live better lives as they journey to adulthood.”

Since Jan. 1, 2014, 51 former wards aged out of the system, and another 41 will age out by the end of the year, Pristow said.

Providing case management services statewide for former wards will be 11 employees titled independence coordinators, Pristow said. The youth will meet with them monthly and make their own life choices while coordinators provide developmentally appropriate services and help in developing an independent living plan aimed at reaching their goals.

“As with all young adults at this stage in life, they are learning about making choices for their future,” he said. “Our independence coordinators will present them with counsel and discuss possible outcomes of their decisions as parents would give their sons and daughters, but they will make their own decisions.”

Independence coordinators will work with youth prior to Oct. 20, so they will be enrolled in Bridge to Independence when it is launched, he said.

Former state wards participating in the program will receive a monthly stipend to assist with living costs such as housing, education and other expenses, he said. Some may qualify for Medicaid or will be given assistance in arranging health insurance.

The qualifications for state wards who age out of state custody to participate in Bridge to Independence include: 

  • Completing secondary education or a program leading to an equivalent credential;
  • Enrolled in an institution which provides post-secondary or vocational education; full-time or part-time in a university or college, or enrolled in a vocational or trade school;
  • Participating in a program or activity designed to promote, or remove barriers to employment;
  • Employed for at least 80 hours per month; or
  • Incapable of doing any of the previously described educational or employment activities due to a documented medical condition. 

“Hundreds of DHHS employees and stakeholders have worked thoughtfully and diligently to build a program that will give former wards the best chance to succeed after aging out of our system,” Pristow said. “Thanks to their hard work, we now have the policies, regulations and materials in place to more effectively support former wards and have a better chance to be successful when they take their next step in life.”

Funds for the Former Ward Program, which provided assistance to wards who aged out, ended Jan. 1, 2014. The Nebraska Children and Families Foundation arranged private funds through the Sherwood Foundation so former wards involved in the program could continue to receive a monthly stipend. Pristow thanked the Foundation for locating funding during the gap in service as well as their input and contributions during work on the program.

He also noted the contributions of a subcommittee of the Children’s Commission that was involved since the signing of the law.

He said a website is nearing completion that provides more details about the program that will be located at, or interested persons may call 402-471-9457.