The writer is director of Children and Family Services for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
As the recently appointed director of the Children and Family Services (CFS) Division at DHHS, I am excited about the upcoming conversations with citizens and stakeholders about changes in our child welfare system and ACCESSNebraska, as well as the opportunities for partnering that may result.
Many Nebraskans in recent years have spent time and energy on improving our programs to provide a more efficient and effective public assistance process for our families and protection for the state's children.
The challenges facing Nebraska's child welfare system and ACCESSNebraska are what attracted me to this position. This is a time of great opportunity. The heightened awareness of these issues and the recently passed laws open doors for CFS to work with our partners to find the best solutions to help Nebraska's citizens — from our most vulnerable citizens, to those who may need a helping hand, to taxpayers.
My 19 years of experience in the protection of children and services to families will help me place an additional perspective on the discussions. In fact, I was drawn to this position because of the challenges and the many opportunities facing our state's child welfare system and ACCESSNebraska.
Some observations since I joined DHHS a little more than one month ago:
The State took over the child welfare cases from KVC Behavioral HealthCare on March 1. The transition of caseloads and staff has been essentially seamless thanks to effective planning and the highest degree of professionalism by department staff.
On July 1, Structured Decision Making, which is a nationally recognized initial assessment tool for addressing children coming into care, will be fully implemented statewide. It has been successfully implemented in both Omaha and Lincoln.
Identifying prevention services and how our citizens access those services is a high priority for my leadership team and me. We are committed to bring a more robust and meaningful access to prevention services.
Since the move to ACCESS- Nebraska, phone-wait times have dropped significantly and more citizens are using the more efficient online service. We will provide additional face-to-face assistance in our offices across the state.
Meanwhile, CFS has been working on several initiatives:
We are applying for a waiver that would permit greater flexibility in using federal funds to address the needs of children. The State has been traditionally bound in providing services by funding streams. As this application is approved, it will allow more capacity to work with our community partners in a more comprehensive system of care.
Staff are meeting with service providers across the state to develop a uniform base pay for providers serving children in our care.
Funding has been approved that enables CFS to lower the family-to-case-worker ratio to that recommended by the Child Welfare League of America. The ratio will be approximately 1 worker for 17 cases. National research has shown that lower caseloads improve the healthy outcomes for children.
DHHS and our partners are looking at how to better prepare wards of the state for life after they leave our care.
The CFS team is looking forward to working with the committees and commission created by the Legislature, and the public, as we work together to improve the child welfare system.
The State of Nebraska is uniquely positioned to develop a comprehensive, robust system of care for our children and families and a framework for modeling and teaming with those whom we do business with. At the same time, we have to be more aware of our performance outcomes and how we measure them for both our contractors and internally within our own systems. Accountability is crucial, and it can be done so that it strengthens the health of our citizens and the work force.
In addition, we are working with the newly appointed Children's Commission to address several important aspects of the child welfare system. We look forward to this partnership in examining the needs of Nebraska's children.
Children and Family Services have already started down this path. I'm excited to be part of the solution. I'll let you know how it goes. Thank you for your patience.