On any given day, over 3,500 children are in foster care in the state of Nebraska. They range in age from infants to 18 years old. The average age of a child in foster care is between 5-12 years old. The median amount of time that a child is in foster care is just over a year. Nearly 60% of these children will be safely reunified with their parents or primary caregivers. Nearly 25% will be adopted, many by their foster parents when safely returning home is not an option. In 2015, 86 youth had to leave the foster care system because they had not yet been safely reunited with their families or adopted, and were too old to remain in state custody. In an effort to ease this transition, Nebraska’s Bridge to Independence Program offers support for Medicaid coverage, a monthly stipend for living expenses and a caseworker to help these youth emerging from foster care.
Rising number of children in foster care
According to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the number of children in out-of-home foster care in Nebraska has increased since 2015. Out-of-home care includes instances where children are cared for by relatives or other trusted adults they know (kinship care), by foster or adoptive families, receiving psychiatric treatment in a medical facility, living in independently, in a group home, emergency shelter, detention facility or have run away.
Why the increase?
Most government agencies and journalists attribute the rise, in part, to increased parental substance abuse. Of the 15 categories, states can report on the circumstances associated with a child’s removal from home and placement into care, drug abuse by a parent had the largest percentage point increase. Neglect as a circumstance around removal has also been increasing. In Nebraska, 83.7% of substantiated maltreatment included physical neglect where parents or caregivers were unable to provide their children with adequate supervision, clothing, nutrition and health care.
“The continued trend of parental substance abuse is very concerning, especially when it means children must enter foster care as a result,” says Steven Wagner, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary at the Administration for Children and Families. “The seriousness of parental substance abuse, including the abuse of opioids, is an issue we at HHS will be addressing through prevention, treatment, and recovery-support measures.”
More resources needed
Access to substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, safety net supports and other community resources is on the decline in many communities, making it difficult for families to get the help they need.
In addition to the challenges that are driving an increase in demand for child and family services is another growing problem: there is a well-documented national social worker shortage. Particularly in rural areas, this can lead to higher caseloads for child welfare workers, higher burnout, and turnover, and decreased quality of services for children and families.
States are also struggling to recruit, train and retain enough foster families to care for the increasing number of children entering state custody. This shortage of foster families can sometimes result in children having to move homes, change schools, be separated from their family and siblings, and in some cases, live in group care settings which are best reserved for youth psychiatric treatment rather than a living situation.
Families experiencing crisis need our help. You can help strengthen families, support children who have experienced trauma and make a positive impact in your community in the following ways:
- Become a foster parent
Foster parents play an important role in supporting children and families during a difficult time in their lives. If you can provide care and unconditional love to children and teens, work in partnership with birth family members and child welfare professionals, and complete ongoing education requirements, you could be a great foster parent. Learn more about becoming a foster parent in Nebraska.
- Pursue a career in social work
Social work is a helping profession and a very diverse field encompassing many different kinds of professionals who all serve people in need. Read about 5 Reasons to Pursue a Career in Social Work or browse our open positions on our careers page.
- Donate or sponsor a fundraising event
Some children enter foster care with few or no belongings. We gladly accept donations of clothing, activity books, toys, stuffed animals and personal hygiene items to place in welcome boxes for children to take to their new foster home or occupy their time while waiting to be matched with a family. We also recruit donors to sponsor our golf tournament, participate in our Holiday Heroes program or make a monetary donation.
- Educate and advocate
Stay informed about what’s happening with the Nebraska child welfare system and advocate for prevention efforts that strengthen families in your local community. Follow the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services, who is responsible for providing child welfare services, and follow KVC’s blog and social media channels. We regularly post articles, highlight success stories and share free resources about child welfare and behavioral healthcare. Inform others about the challenges families are facing, and rally them to get involved and make a positive impact in their community.