Proposed family crisis hotline only a good start

Friday, March 6, 2009

A bill to establish a hotline for families in crisis is a good start, but no one should expect miracles.

Nebraska's "safe haven" fiasco, under which 36 children from many states and by some reports, even one foreign country, most of them adolescents, had the positive effect of pointing out just how desperate some parents are.

Heineman called a special session and lawmakers implemented a 30-day age limit on the safe haven law, bringing it into compliance with the original intent

The hotline would cost about $5 million a year, and put callers in touch with health professionals who could help with behavior, mental health or other problems.

The hotline bill (LB346) would also provide more counseling, therapy and other services for parents after they adopted foster kids or became their guardians.

It would also set up a "family navigator" program to put families in touch with others who had experienced similar problems.

But no one should expect the state to be a good parent. No matter their good intentions, social workers face too many restrictions -- time and discipline options among them -- to replace a loving home.

One doesn't have to talk to too many parents of children involved with the Health and Human Services or juvenile justice systems to hear horror stories of mishandled cases.

And despite Washington's massive "stimulus" package, funding will continue to be tight. State funding, which reimbursed a program for troubled teen girls at a mental health hospital in Kearney only $294 of the reported $560 daily cost, was inadequate to keep the program open.

And, keeping a continuous supply of foster parents in the pipeline is a constant struggle.

Lawmakers should be cautious about "throwing money" at a problem like families in crisis without knowing exactly where it will do the most good.

But solving the underlying problem, the decline of the traditional family, will take determined effort far beyond anything government can provide.

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