There are nearly a half million children in America's foster care system today. This includes more than 6,000 in Nebraska. As the parent of two adopted children, I am committed to doing all I can to take care of these most vulnerable of our citizens. This is why I am joining the bi-partisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.
Our nation's foster care system is intended to be a temporary solution for children who have been victims of neglect or abuse before they can reunite with their parents, a loving family member or another permanent family. Unfortunately, this preferred outcome often fails to materialize. Today, the average child in the foster care system will remain there for three years and will be placed in three different homes, leading to disruptive transfers to new schools, separation from siblings and unfamiliar surroundings.
The outcomes for children placed in our nation's foster care system are beneath America's standards. Of individuals who have "aged out" of the foster care system as children, 25 percent have been homeless, 51 percent have been unemployed for a significant stretch of time and only 2 percent have obtained a bachelor's degree or higher.
Nebraska has faced challenges with foster care in the last decade. Federal reviews in 2002 and 2008 showed Nebraska was not up to federal standards for child safety, permanency and well-being. The most recent statistics show that Nebraska has more than 6,000 state wards, with 30 percent living with their parents and 70 percent living outside the home, which is a large number of children in out-of-home care.
Nebraska is currently undergoing efforts to overhaul its foster care system and its outcomes by privatizing child welfare services. The goal of the transition is to reverse the numbers of children in out-of-home care versus in-home care. This would achieve better outcomes for child and community safety, permanency and well-being. State legislators in Nebraska are working together to make this transition a successful one that will result in improved outcomes for children in the system.
The President's budget for Fiscal Year 2012 includes a comprehensive child welfare reform proposal that may help Nebraska in its transition. As part of the goal to help prevent abuse and keep children in safe homes and out of long-term foster care placements, the President proposed allowing demonstration projects that enable states to test innovative strategies to improve outcomes for children. The proposal also rewards states for efficiently using federal and state resources.
Foster care was designed to be a temporary placement: a place to heal and strengthen these young citizens. It hasn't always worked that way. As Congress considers the President's proposal, I look forward to working with the other members of the bi-partisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth to ensure that any proposed legislation works best for Nebraska and our state's ongoing reform efforts.