In the past 17 months, the number of children in Nebraska’s child welfare system has dropped by 900 -- a 14.7 percent decrease in state wards.
Returning children in state custody safely to their home is the No. 1 goal of Children and Family Services in the Department of Health and Human Services. Given our team and the programs that are affecting this downward trend, we will see this number continue to fall.
CFS implemented several programs and strategies statewide in the past year that are making a real difference for children and families.
They all effectively assess the situations confronting a child and family, as we work with them, and gauge how well we perform our jobs.
For instance, an evidence-based tool called "Structured Decision Making" relies on various assessments to measure a family’s progress at critical stages in their case. By identifying a child’s and a family’s needs, we are able to provide local resources to assist in improving their outcomes, and hopefully to safely reunite families.
Our employees also are involved statewide and at the local level in a "Continuous Quality Improvement" program that began last fall.
Cases are reviewed weekly to pinpoint what employees can do to perfect their work with children and families. Data from cases is summarized and analyzed. Regular meetings are held with employees locally and statewide to discuss challenges and solutions, resulting in more timely and appropriate services.
Overall, children and families are better served.
Once each quarter, 40 days are designated for extra attention to help a targeted group of state wards reach permanent placement, whether it’s at home, with relatives, adoption or legal guardianship.
During this process, the individual circumstances of children are identified and handled through brainstorming sessions. New approaches are shared with other employees so they can benefit from this creative thinking.
CFS employees are the first to admit there is more work for us to do, and these programs are the key to sustaining a safe decrease in Nebraska’s state wards.
The staff is learning every day about better ways to work with children and families, and how to make our system operate better. They understand the necessity to reunite families as soon as it is safe, because it is traumatic when children are removed from their home.
We recognize that sometimes there are situations where home may not be a safe place for children. When this happens, CFS focuses on placing children with relatives, or we seek permanency for them through adoption or legal guardianship.
Nebraskans should take confidence in what we’re accomplishing. I wish each of you could see the dedication of CFS employees to our children and their innovative thinking to safely bring families together.
You would be impressed with the quality of leadership in Lincoln at DHHS and CFS, and in our five service areas across the state. It is an honor to work with these committed public servants.
As we continue to work toward our goal to safely return children home, I expect we will have more positive reports, and most importantly, more and more children returning home.
By Thomas Pristow, the director of the Children and Family Services division of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.