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Sen. Kate Bolz

Sen. Kate Bolz

District 29

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The following opinion editorial ran in the Omaha-World Herald on November 19, 2017:

Midlands Voices Nov 19, 2017

Howard, of Omaha, represents District 9 in the Nebraska Legislature. Bolz, of Lincoln, represents District 29.

In Nebraska, the Department of Health and Human Services is trusted with the responsibility to protect children from harm.

As state senators serving on the Health and Human Services and Appropriations Committees, we take our role in providing oversight for children’s safety very seriously. We applaud the caseworkers, foster parents, extended families and others who are working hard to make Nebraska children safe and families successful.

Recently, however, the Department of Health and Human Services submitted documents to the Legislature showing that resources for the Division of Children and Family Services will fall a total of $61.5 million short for fiscal 2018 and 2019.

This follows a session in which the division testified to the Legislature that it did not require additional resources and could take on more responsibilities for kinship care and training.

After a gubernatorial veto that cut child welfare service provider rates, it is now more difficult than ever to guarantee that Nebraska will have the services, and providers, to ensure the safety of children.

Let’s cut to the heart of the matter: The Department of Health and Human Services deserves credit for examining ways to do things more effectively, and we respect the decision to ask for needed funding.

However, there must be a new commitment from both the Legislature and the administration to fund and support the child welfare system moving forward in a way that achieves our child welfare goals of prevention of maltreatment and stability for families.

As a state, we have work to do. The most recent report of the inspector general of child welfare cites nine reports of death or serious injury to a child in the custody of our state foster care system. It further notes a disturbing increase in sexual abuse cases and a need for an investigation into mental health needs and suicide attempts by state wards.

Also, while our state succeeds on some federal benchmarks, we fall short on measures relating to timeliness to reunification of children with family members and preventing recurring maltreatment in foster care.

As state senators, we are also mindful of the long-running problem of an overburdened protection and safety workforce. High caseloads, staff turnover and vacancies remain a source of stress for our child welfare system.

Finally, we know that parental substance use is a challenge in our child welfare system, and we need to look at opportunities for our child welfare system and our behavioral health system to partner in prevention and treatment.

As a state, we must do our part to prevent tragedies for children in the first place. The most pressing and obvious strategy is to provide adequate resources to serve the children entering the system and to ensure that there are enough caseworkers to appropriately support families.

Another is not to over-promise the ability and capacity of our current system or to underestimate future needs.

Specifically, we urge this administration to invest in a strong and efficient protection and safety workforce, to review data in order to accurately predict utilization and to embrace focused public-private partnerships that help serve children. This may mean investing more in caseworkers, reworking existing contracts and building stronger partnerships with service providers and the Divisions of Behavioral Health and Medicaid.

We also call on our colleagues in the Legislature. In this time of fiscal shortfall, the Legislature has an extraordinarily tough job of deciding who must do more with less. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services should not be on that list.

As the adults entrusted with responsibility for our kids, let’s rebuild our commitment to partnership, budget reality and problem-solving in our child welfare system.

Howard, of Omaha, represents District 9 in the Nebraska Legislature. Bolz, of Lincoln, represents District 29.

Sen. Kate Bolz

District 29
Room #1015
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2734
Email: kbolz@leg.ne.gov
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