Inspector General of Child Welfare outlines need for improvements, foster care problems
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - More kids in Nebraska involved in the Child Welfare System are ending up with serious injuries.
That’s a takeaway from the most recent annual report written by Jennifer Carter, inspector general for child welfare.
According to the report, Carter investigated the serious injuries to 10 children involved in the Child Welfare System. Last year, she only investigated one.
“When you see an increase, even if it is a small number, but relative to what you’ve seen in the past and the number is larger so we just wanted to pay attention, but I don’t think there’s any reason to panic,” Carter said.
Of those 10 cases, nine are the abuse of kids ranging from less than a year old to 10. They were all involved in the welfare program, whether state wards, in the intake and initial assessment process, or engaged in the alternative response program, which is a more flexible program that provides families in need resources as a way to get them stabilized.
“We’ve never had this many injuries or any in cases related to alternative response so we would be looking at those cases to say is there a commonality? Is there a policy the department would benefit from? Are there changes in the laws that need to be made?” Carter said.
The 10th case is a 17-year-old injured in a shooting, who was a state ward and involved in juvenile probation.
Another concern Carter’s report covers is the lack of placements for kids who have been removed from their homes. She said DHHS has enough licensed foster homes on paper, but they aren’t accepting kids.
“Older kids are always hard, or harder than others, I should say to place,” Carter said. “But we’re even finding sometimes it’s infants they’re having trouble locating homes for.:
She said DHHS needs to do more to support foster homes because in some situations older kids have been moving from shelter to shelter or staying the night in hotels because there’s nowhere else for them to go.
“You don’t really have possessions with you, you don’t have any kind of comfort or familiarity,” Cater said. “I think it’s very challenging.”
The last big takeaway from the report is that DHHS needs to continue to focus on reducing the caseloads of child welfare workers.
As of July 2022, only the Central Service Area is meeting the goal of being 90% in compliance with mandated caseloads. With the eastern service area only at 36.3% compliance. With the rest between 66% to 88% compliance.
“The real challenge for that is when a caseworker has too many cases,” Carter said. “They can’t pay attention to each case, in the way and with the depth that they would probably want to and need to.”
10/11 Now reached out to DHHS for comment on these issues. They highlighted their successes like stabilizing YRTCs and adjusting after ending the St. Francis contract but also said they’re committed to more improvements.
Read the full report here: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/reports/public_counsel.php
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