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Office of Governor Pete Ricketts

Gov. Ricketts, DHHS Announce Statewide Behavioral Health System of Care for Children and Youth

Media Contacts:

Taylor Gage, Governor’s Office, 402-471-1970

Leah Bucco-White, DHHS, 402-471-9356


DHHS will work with stakeholders to develop the System of Care over the next year


LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts announced the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will develop a Behavioral Health System of Care in response to the needs of children and youth who have a serious emotional disorder.  He was joined by DHHS CEO Courtney Phillips, DHHS Behavioral Health Division Director Sheri Dawson, and Nebraska Children and Families Foundation CEO Mary Jo Pankoke.


“There is no question it can be confusing and oftentimes challenging for families to access behavioral health services for their children,” said Governor Ricketts.  “With the new System of Care, DHHS and its partners will deliver services in a more effective and customer-oriented manner.  This new delivery method will eliminate the need for families to navigate multiple systems to find services to meet the needs of their children.”


The Behavioral Health System of Care for Children and Youth model integrates services by connecting and coordinating the work of state child-serving agencies, non-profits, local government organizations, behavioral health care providers, families, and patient advocates.  This new philosophy will transform Nebraska’s behavioral health system, abandoning old approaches marked by fragmented service delivery and high rates of out-of-community placements.


“This is a proven model that has helped many states transform how they deliver services,” said DHHS CEO Phillips.  “It is providing meaningful benefits and measureable, positive outcomes for children, youth, and families.”


She said Nebraska expects to see improvements within three to five years, including:


  •        Increase in school attendance and school performance
  •        Increase in the percent of youth and young adults living in home settings
  •        Decrease in the average age of first system contact
  •        Decrease in cost per youth receiving services


“The children’s System of Care puts families at the center of services as equal partners,” said Behavioral Health Division Director Dawson.  “This is a new way of doing business that involves and addresses the needs of each child and each family.” 


She said the launch follows an extensive planning process, with the participation of over 1,000 families, youth, system partners, service providers, and other stakeholders that resulted in a strategic plan for system design and implementation. 


DHHS will partner closely with the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, a non-profit organization working with local, state, and national partners to support children, young adults, and families at risk. 


“We’re honored to be a partner in building a System of Care for behavioral health in Nebraska,” said Pankoke.  “Our role will be to bring partners into this important work, because no one entity can do this alone, and build statewide support for a system that delivers quality care.”


Next steps include:


  •        Building a complete data baseline and a financial blueprint of existing funding and people served across child-serving agencies;
  •        Developing the infrastructure and operationalizing strategies for system coordination across state, regional, and local leadership teams;
  •        Implementing a phased work plan;
  •        Developing and implementing a plan to inform partners, families, and stakeholders about the System of Care goals, common principles, outcomes, and infrastructure.


Previously, DHHS had developed a strategic plan to build a statewide System of Care.  A copy of the plan can be accessed here.  Today’s announcement is the next step towards implementing the system. 


According to national reports, half of all lifetime mental illness begins at the average age of 14, and three quarters by age 24.  Between two to five percent of children suffer from a serious mental health disorder that causes substantial impairment in functioning at home, at school, or in the community. 


Over 37,000 children in Nebraska experience behavioral health disorders, according to the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health.  Additionally, about 16,000 Nebraska adolescents ages 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode in 2014, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).