Foster care system doing better job

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A judge dismissed a lawsuit alleging the State Department of Health and Human Services was endangering 6,000 Nebraska children in the foster care system, but even so, the lawsuit helped improve conditions for the kids in the system.

In dismissing the suit, the judge pointed out that the state had already made improvements in conditions such as overcrowded foster homes, and social worker caseloads that were three times national standards.

On Wednesday, the Nebraska Foster Care Review Board reported that the number of children in the foster care system had dropped by more than 700.

Much of the credit can go to Gov. Dave Heineman, who directed HHS to decrease the length of time children spend in the system by making permanent placements earlier, particularly for young children, and freeing up workers to focus on high-priority cases.

The review board called for an increased number of caseworkers -- more than 40 percent of children reviewed by the board had four or more different case managers -- recruiting and supporting 300 additional foster homes for children from birth to age 5, provide better oversight of contractors who provide transportation and monitor parental visits, and that critical decisions about a child staying in foster care are made in court hearings.

All are good recommendations, but all will involve more tax dollars, something Nebraska's governor and many fledgling legislators say they want to reduce. Vulnerable children must not pay the price for new lawmakers' on-the-job training.

Even at its best, however, a state foster care system is a second-rate substitute for capable, loving parents.

It behooves a responsible society to provide young parents the tools and motivation to provide their children the safe, nurturing homes they deserve. More effort and resources toward those goals will make a state foster care system unnecessary.

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