Keeping kids in loving homes good investment
The crisis that came to light after Nebraska's legislature inadvertently made it possible for parents to drop off teenagers at the nearest hospital is playing itself out in the real world.
The Unicameral fixed the safe haven law by limiting it to infants 30 days old or younger, but now comes the tougher task of delivering on the promises made before the law was changed.
Thanks to LB 603, contracts have been signed and the family Helpline and Navigator Programs designed to help parents find the help they need will go into effect on Jan. 1.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that the number of children legally wards of the state was 6,348 in September, down from an all-time high of 7,803 in April 2006.
It was progress that needed to be made.
"We've seen data showing Nebraska ranks second highest in the nation in removing children from their homes, and we all agree too many children are in the state's care," said Todd Reckling, director of the Division of Children and Family Services admitted in Monday's release.
"We began aggressively addressing this issue a couple of years ago, along with our system partners and are seeing positive results in achieving measurable outcomes. We have much more work to do, but we're definitely headed in the right direction."
The DHHS also pointed to adoptions of state wards, up 92.6 percent since 2003 with an all-time high of 572 in 2008, the fact that more children are safely leaving the state's care than entering it for the third year in a row, and said "Nebraska is leading the nation in establishing permancy for children in foster care for long periods of time," as signs of progress.
But caring for children is never the state's first choice, and finding ways to do it effectively and compassionately is never easy.
For instance, two-dozen special-needs children in residential and other programs at the I Believe in Me Ranch at Kearney will have to find somewhere else to go by the end of October.
After a state audit found the troubled nonprofit group overcharging the state and its taxpayers some $15,000 a month for three nondescript buildings, the ranch's executive director announced it would have to close this month.
It's true that some children are better off living somewhere else than with their biological parents, and some children require more care than their parents can provide.
But the current situation is further proof that making it possible that as many children as possible are in loving, stable homes homes is a good investment of taxpayer dollars.