LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — On Wednesday, Nebraska’s Foster Care Review Office (FCRO) announced the release of its 2021 report to the Nebraska Legislature. The report outlines “areas where problems continue to exist, and new issues have arisen.”
The FCRO provided the following:
The Foster Care Review Office (FCRO) announced today the release of its required 2021 Annual Report with outcome indicators and recommendations for Nebraska children in out-of-home care. The FCRO’s statutory role is to conduct independent reviews of children’s cases, gather and analyze data about children in out-of-home care through child welfare or juvenile justice, and propel the systems to make positive changes so that children’s needs are met and they are better off when they leave care than when they entered.
The FCRO Annual Report, submitted to the Legislature each year on September 1, contains analysis of tracking and review data from the previous state fiscal year. In FY2020-21, this included the tracking of more than 6,000 children who were in out-of-home care for one or more days, and over 4,000 case file reviews for 3,480 children out-of-home for 6 months or more.
“This Annual Report contains valuable data and analysis that can be used by leaders and policy makers to determine the direction in which our child welfare and juvenile justice systems will go in the coming year,” said Monika Gross, Executive Director of the FCRO. “In addition, it informs stakeholders and the public about the experience of children and youth in out-of-home care in Nebraska.”
The Report points out areas where progress has been made and areas where problems continue to exist, and new issues have arisen. In summary:
- The number of state wards increased by 9.5% between June 2020 and June 2021, notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas the overall number of out-of-home youth served by the Administrative Office of Courts and Probation, Juvenile Division (Probation) continues to decrease, a trend that was reported last year. All regions of the state experienced increases in the number of state wards with the most dramatic increase (+35.7%) in the Northern Service Area.
- The population at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs) has decreased significantly over the last two years following the closure of the Geneva YRTC. The YRTCs, located in Kearney, Hastings, and Lincoln, are the most restrictive placements available for juvenile justice youth in Nebraska. This population has unique and significant needs that must be addressed, including trauma history, mental health, substance use, and educational needs.
- Racial and ethnic disparities continue to pervade the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and the disparities are greatest among the youth at the YRTCs. No meaningful progress has been made over the last year to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in our child serving systems in Nebraska.
- About one-fourth of the children served by DHHS have had 5 or more caseworkers during their current episode in out-of-home care. The Eastern Service Area, which is served by Saint Francis Ministries, has the highest percentage of children with 5 or more caseworkers (34.8%).
“There are significant issues impacting the child welfare workforce in Nebraska, including high turnover, high caseloads, and minimal training and support, which in turn impact the children and families being served. The time for talk has passed and now is the time for action,” stated Gross.
The FCRO made a number of recommendations, including the following:
- DHHS must address case manager turnover, especially in the Eastern Service Area. If the current trend continues, Saint Francis Ministries could experience over 100% turnover this year. That is unacceptable and negatively impacts children and families. Addressing case manager turnover must include having an adequate support structure in place to support the work of case management.
- Address caseloads which remain too high, especially in the Eastern Service Area where a mere 35% of ongoing case managers are in compliance with mandated caseload standards. Like high turnover, this negatively impacts children and families, delays permanency, and puts unnecessary strain on the workforce.
- Increase efforts to improve poor documentation. Lack of documentation in case files, lack of updated documentation, and poor documentation are often a result of high turnover and high caseloads, and are a contributing factor in poor case management, lack of progress toward permanency, and poor outcomes for children and families.
More details on these and other recommendations can be found in the Executive Summary and full report.
Click here to download the full report or read it below: