Background Photo Provided by the
Nebraska Tourism Commission
Offical Nebraska Government Website
Office of Governor Pete Ricketts

Nebraska’s Commitment to Child Welfare

Nebraska’s Commitment to Child Welfare

By Governor Pete Ricketts

October 11, 2022

 

Governor’s official photo here.

 

Nebraska is the best place to raise a family.  We have safe, supportive communities.  We have great schools.  We have world-class zoos, fantastic children’s museums, and beautiful state and local parks.  And children in Nebraska benefit from our state’s strong culture of community involvement and mentorship.  

 

I may be biased since I grew up in Nebraska, but you don’t have to take my word about our state being a great place for kids.  Nebraska regularly ranks near the top on measures of child welfare.  Each year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation releases its Kids Count data book that evaluates child welfare in all 50 states.  Nebraska has been in the top 10 for three consecutive years—coming in #8 in 2022.  This year, we were #1 in the nation for children’s economic wellbeing.  Overall, we’re ranked higher than every neighboring state. 

 

However, we know the pandemic affected kids.  Due to the coronavirus, they spent time out of the classroom and disconnected from friends.  We’ve worked hard in Nebraska to mitigate its negative impacts. 

 

Research has clearly shown students learn better in the classroom.  We also know that kids in the classroom, on average, had better physical and mental health.  Here in Nebraska, schools did a great job of helping children return to school.  Nebraska was the sixth best state for getting kids back in classrooms after the outbreak of the coronavirus.  Politico gave our state top marks in the nation for our pandemic response, including ranking us fourth best for how we handled education.  Relatively speaking, we had little learning loss compared to other states.  Our educators played a key role in this achievement.  There were times when many teachers were working double to prepare lessons for both in-person and remote learners.  Thank you to educators in Nebraska for all you’ve done since the spring of 2020 to help our kids succeed.

 

The pandemic was also hard on families.  We saw a nearly 30% increase in child welfare cases from July 2019 through October 2021.  Our team at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has done great work to meet the growing need for child welfare services.  We’ve dedicated more State resources to handle the increase in cases.  For example, we directed $20 million of carryover funds from 2021 into this year to address needs.  And we devoted $10 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be able to serve the increased number of kids in the child welfare system. 

 

We also know the pandemic affected children’s mental well-being.  That’s why the State prioritized using ARPA funds to invest in pediatric mental healthcare facilities.  This includes:

 

  • $10 million to develop mental health urgent care centers across Nebraska
  • $10 million for a public-private partnership to build a behavioral health center for youth
  • $10 million for an adolescent mental health development day school to serve youth impacted by the pandemic

 

As we’ve invested in pediatric healthcare facilities, we’ve also taken action to bolster Nebraska’s child welfare workforce.  Our caseworker teammates received a 20% salary increase in October of 2021, which has strengthened our retention.  In the nine months prior to October 2021, case manager monthly turnover was over 4.7%.  In the nine months after October 2021, case manager monthly turnover fell to 3.1%.  DHHS has also successfully worked to recruit new teammates.  From March to July 2022, the agency hired 105 new child welfare specialists to grow its team in the Eastern Service Area.  

 

While addressing the needs arising from the pandemic, we’re also focused on finding new and improved ways to serve children and families.  Over the past eight years, the quality of child welfare in Nebraska has benefited greatly from strong public-private partnerships that focus on prevention.  Under the Bring Up Nebraska Initiative, we’ve been able to serve thousands of children and families in communities across the state.   By embracing an alternative response approach, we are able to work with families before they come to the attention of the state child welfare agency.  This proactive mindset is key to preventing abuse and neglect and strengthening Nebraska’s families.  Effective October 1, 2022, DHHS is launching new programs to continue our alternative response approach.

 

  • Family-Centered Treatment: a 4-6 month home-based trauma treatment program that works to identify the core issues facing the family within the home by increasing positive parenting skills and providing therapeutic services to address mental health needs and substance use.
  • Healthy Families America: a home visiting program for new and expecting families with children who are at risk for maltreatment.
  • Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: a therapeutic program for children and adolescents who have symptoms associated with trauma exposure.
  • Familias Unidas: a family-centered intervention that works to prevent substance use and risky sexual behavior among Hispanic adolescents and empowers parents by enhancing communication and improving parenting skills.

 

These innovative programs increase the personalized services we offer to ensure every child in Nebraska has the opportunity to thrive here in the Good Life.

 

Nebraskans working in child welfare provide great service to kids in our state.  Their compassionate care is a big reason why Nebraska continues to rank among the top states in America for child welfare.  Thank you to State teammates and the many other partners across Nebraska who are investing in the well-being of our children.

 

If you have questions about our approach to child welfare in Nebraska, please reach out to me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.