Nebraska Improves In Child, Family Services
The July 2008 Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) of Nebraska’s child welfare system by the federal Administration on Children and Families (ACF) shows both improvements and areas needing continued focus. The CFSR assesses state performance on 23 items related to seven outcomes and 22 items related to seven system factors.
The CFSR reviewed the entire child welfare system in Nebraska, which includes the courts, mental health systems, educational systems, physical health, and community engagement as well as DHHS’ Division of Children and Family Services.
Nebraska’s strengths were highlighted for five of the seven system factors, which measure service delivery systems. Nebraska was strong in agency responsiveness to the community, foster and adoptive parent licensing, training, quality assurance and information systems. The review covered data for the period April 1, 2006 to March 31, 2007 and found that Nebraska met one of the six national standards (Permanency for Children in Foster Care for Long Periods of Time).
Of the 19 states reviewed so far, only three fared better than Nebraska in achieving the system outcomes.
“This comprehensive federal review helps states ensure they’re doing the best they can for children,” said Todd Landry, director of the Division of Children and Family Services (CFS) in the Department of Health and Human Services. “The review provides a picture of Nebraska’s systemic strengths and offers guidance in areas where we can continue to improve services. We believe the preliminary data shows we have made progress in Nebraska.”
Progress is in line with the goals Governor Heineman set for CFS in 2006: to improve on the federal Child and Family Services Review; and to accelerate the reform of the child welfare system.
Since the review in FFY 06-07, there have been numerous positive outcomes and accomplishments including fewer wards, more adoptions and placements with relatives, and continued reform of the child welfare system.
* There’s been a 18.4% decrease in the number of wards, from an all-time high of 7,803 in April 2006 to 6,365. This is the lowest number since October 2003.
* Nebraska is #1 in the nation in establishing permanency for children in foster care for long periods of time (CFSR data measure).
* Nebraska is meeting the federal Timeliness of Adoption Outcome for the first time. In 2008, 572 children were adopted, the highest number ever. The number of finalized adoptions increased by 92.6% (297 to 572) from 2003 to 2008. NE received an Adoption Incentive Bonus in ‘05, ‘06, ’07 and may be eligible in 2008.
* There’s been a 5% increase in the number of children being served in their home (versus out-of-home care like foster care or group homes) compared to January 2007.
* 2008 marks the third consecutive year in which the number of children safely exiting state care surpassed the number of children entering care.
Landry said the areas needing improvement were not a surprise, because the Division had already identified them in an earlier statewide assessment. Like Nebraska, 16 of the 19 states reviewed so far did not achieve Substantial Conformity for any of the seven outcomes for children and families. Only three states (Idaho, Massachusetts and North Carolina) met any of the seven outcomes. These states met only the Education outcome.
He said it’s difficult to make direct comparisons with the 2002 review because ACF made significant changes for this round that incorporated higher standards. For example, the number of reviewed cases increased, the focus was on older children in care and the “substantial compliance” standard rose from 90 percent to 95 percent. This round also included a more detailed analysis of the systems involved in child welfare, such as the court system.
The Division received a courtesy report from the federal Administration on Children and Families and submitted comments back to ACF. The final report from ACF is expected to be released shortly. CFS will then have 90 days to develop a program improvement plan and implement improvements over a three-year span.