New law helps Nebraska keep kids out of foster care

Courtesy of our media partners at NTV:

Nebraska is now one of 13 states that will have access to a federal funding stream that will help keep children from having to enter the foster care system.

Previously federal funding for child welfare was only available after a child entered the foster care system.

Now with the Family First Prevention Services Act, DHHS has access to federal funding that they can use to help at risk families before kids enter the foster care system.

“This really already aligns us with the priorities that Nebraska has had,” said Kathleen Stolz, Children and Family Services Administrator for the Department of Health and Human Services.

With over three thousand foster care children currently in Nebraska’s foster care system, the state is moving forward in their efforts to keep children with their biological families.

“So once a child is removed from their home, there is trauma associated from that removal and by serving them without entering the foster care system it reduces the trauma of children,” said Stolz.

Through the Family First Prevention Services Act, DHHS and the state have committed to a five year program of implementing prevention-focused child welfare programs to help tend to the needs of at risk children.

“It expands the amount of evidence based practices that are available for mental health and substance abuse as well as in home parenting programs to enhance parenting skills and strengthen that family unit,” said Stolz.

But in some cases, Stolz said children will still need to be removed from their homes for safety reasons.

That’s why organizations like Christian Heritage are working to find families who want to foster.

“Every situation is different,” said Christian Heritage recruiter, Brian Berrier. “There’s a lot of ups and downs and that’s why we believe someone really needs to be called to this, be passionate about it to really stay with it and just really help restore these families.”

Becky Williamson has been working with foster care children for the last 4 years and said she is always hopeful to reunite the families.

“I am a firm believer in working very closely with biological families because I am a firm believer that we are a team and together we can get them together as a family again,” said Williamson.

However, in some circumstances, she said she’s had to become a foster child’s legal guardian.

“He had actually was living with his grandparents and they just couldn’t control his behaviors and due to their health issues we ended up taking him into our home,” said Williamson.

But because that process can be a lengthy one and some kids may age out before it’s finished, that’s why Williamson said Nebraska’s new law will be a great benefit to the state.

“I think if we can find those cases before they become a full blown foster care face or they become wards of the state because of the situation, we can have families that come along side these biological families and work with them before it gets to that point,” said Williamson.

In the last two years, DHHS said they’ve been able to reduce the amount of children placed in out-of-home settings by nearly 15%.

For more information on the Family First Prevention Services Act, click here.

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