The writer, of Lincoln, is director of Children and Family Services for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Recently, Children and Family Services in the Department of Health and Human Services announced a decline of 14 percent, or 869 children, in the number of Nebraska state wards in the past 17 months.
While this is a significant improvement in the state of child welfare in Nebraska, where we have had more children in the child welfare system than the national average, it is not all about the numbers.
I want you to know that CFS is committed to returning children home safely. We have many tools and the right team in place to continue improving the lot of children and families, which leads to more youth returning to and staying at home.
As invigorating as this news is for CFS staff, we know there is more to accomplish, and we relish the challenge to safely reunite more children with their families.
After all, countless studies have proven that children are traumatized when separated from their parents. Even more trauma can be inflicted on the child with every change in life he or she experiences. We want to minimize trauma for children.
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.
In every case, we apply an effective, evidence-based tool called Structured Decision Making throughout the time children are a ward of the state. SDM measures a family’s progress toward a healthier situation for all, and CFS then aligns community resources to assist in the family’s growth toward a reunion. This tool has been instrumental in reversing the number of children in the child welfare system.
We remain ever vigilant in protecting our state’s children as best as we are able. Our rec- ords show that caseworkers keep a close eye on children by completing risk and safety assessments in a timely manner. In the most recent quarter, those assessments were accomplished 84 percent of the time, which exceeds the federal goal of 73.5 percent.
The effort of CFS to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care is largely due to the commitment of employees to improve what they do for children and families.
Last fall, Continuous Quality Improvement was introduced at CFS. Data are collected from cases and examined to identify where improvements can be made in dealing with children, families and in job performance. A weekly summary of findings and regular meetings to discuss these issues have resulted in improved outcomes for children and families.
Another strategy focuses staff’s attention for 40 days every quarter on cases aimed at identifying what it will take for children to reach permanent placement. Barriers are addressed, and staff members brainstorm solutions. This is a learning process that staffers apply in their daily work.
I wish that everyone concerned with the welfare of our children could see what I see every day; that is CFS employees doing their very best to reunite families. They would be impressed with the quality of leadership in Lincoln at DHHS and CFS, and in our five service areas across the state.
Employees “get it” and continue to work to improve how our state’s child welfare system deals caringly and effectively with children and families. I consider it an honor to work with these committed public servants.
In the future, I expect to be able to tell you about more and more children who leave out-of-home care and return home safely. You can be confident that will continue to be our No. 1 goal.