Monday, March 19, 2012

The Future of the NFF

Volunteer to Serve on the NFF Board of Directors or as a member of a committee!

We need 9 people to be fully committed to serving on the board by the end of May if the NFF is to continue as an organization in our state!

Please look over the list below and consider what role you can play in the NFF going forward. I know that many of you have worked hard to reach the goals set forth by the NFF and that most of you would like to see the organization continue to play a significant role in protecting the integrity of families in our state through active participation in state politics.

Ultimately the direction the NFF takes and its continued presence in Nebraska politics is entirely reliant on the core supporters who are willing to volunteer to serve on a board of directors. The decision to continue with the NFF will be finalized by the end of May dependent on the numbers of volunteers who stand up to make this organization sustainable.

Many Hands Make Light Work!

With a committed board of directors to support the executive director and members willing to serve on committees, no one person will need to take on too much. Here is how we would like to organize and the positions and committees that will need to be filled.

- Executive director – Stephanie Morgan
*Provide clear leadership for the organization. Inspire and inform. Work with all board members regularly to shape the direction and focus of the organization. Meet often with the assistant director and secretary to evaluate the progress of current goals and assignments.

- Assistant Executive director
*Fill in for the Executive director when they are absent. Council with and support the executive director in leadership of the organization. Provide a unified message with the executive director and attend meetings in representation of the director.

- Secretary
*Keep records of core supporters, community partners, and contact lists for media and state officials. Work up meeting agendas and take notes at meetings. Produce phone trees and mailing lists. Send out organizational emails to core supporter and friends when directed. Publish a monthly email newsletter.

- We need people willing to assist in Secretary duties, such as taking on the newsletter.

- Treasurer
*Take on the task of incorporating the organization and getting a non-profit status for the group. Establish and organization bank account. Organizational accounting of funds and expenditures, tax filings, and yearly financial reports.

- Fundraising Committee: Will work under the Treasurer and help organize fundraising efforts and reach organizational goals for funding.

- Education Director
*Work with local school authorities and elected school boards. Help parents to organize local political action teams to influence local education policy. Watchdog for local education policy. Suggest policy changes needed in local school districts.

- Education Committee: We need members to serve with the education director. If you would like to serve as a representative to your school district please let us know.

- Legislative Director
*Work with state lawmakers and committees. Help group members to be involved in legislative matters and political action. Watchdog for legislation that impacts families. Suggest positions the organization should take on proposed legislation and make suggestions for original legislation.

- Legislative Committee: We need members to serve with the legislative director. If you would like to serve as a representative of your district please let us know.

- Public Relations Director
*Make contacts in local media. Write and distribute press releases. Make commercials and other public outreach materials (posters, mailings, newspaper ads, etc.). Book radio and TV spots.

- Social media facilitator: Use social media to shape the organizational message and activate support for important legislation and other efforts.

- Website developer: Website development and maintenance.

Important Announcement!

I announced to core supporters present at yesterday’s meeting that I will be moving out of state in the next year. My husband who works for the United States Defense Intelligence Agency has been looking to advance his career and this will mean that our family will relocate as soon as he finds the right position. We are not certain yet of the time frame but we are certain that it will happen before my son finishes his eighth grade year in 2013 (though it is likely to happen much sooner). In addition to organizing a board there is a pressing need for some willing person to serve as the assistant executive director with the intention of eventually taking my role as executive director. If you are interested and want to talk with me about it please call me: 402-301-9752

If you think of someone you think would be an excellent candidate to direct the NFF please let me know.

I can’t wait to hear from all of you!

Stephanie Morgan
Executive Director of the Nebraska Family Forum

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reflections from the panel discussion on child welfare and school attendance

A reflection from yesterdays panel discussion on child welfare: 

After the Panel Discussion on Child Welfare hosted by Family Advocacy Movement (FAM),  I spoke with three women well aquainted with the truancy law debate, one who sits on the “truancy triage team” in Douglas County and the others who seemed to be closely involved with the process. They were not pleased with the amendment that would give schools more discretion over attendance. They felt that school districts need to be accountable to a "multi-disciplinary team" (namely them) for what they decide is legitimate or not.

They not only didn't believe school districts (especially building principals) should be free to make these decisions, it was obvious that the idea of parents having a strong role in decisions about attendance was way out of bounds. In essence they seemed to think that their collective judgment is superior to the individual judgments of parents.

They each gave examples of irresponsible parenting and mentioned family vacations and kids participating in competitive sports programs outside of the school curriculum as examples of irresponsible parental choices sanctioned by school districts.

One of them commented that she certainly understands a why a student who has brain surgery would miss 20 days but not a student with ONLY allergies. I challenged her to be sensitive to children who suffer from sever allergies and immunological disorders which is all too common today. She said, "Well yes, but you just have those kids who say they're sick but aren't really very sick." She seemed to be saying that it’s her job (or the job of this team) to determine what is valid and reasonable, which kids are faking it and which parents are being too lax. 

I proposed to them that the appropriate place for these things to be determined are in the home and in the local school districts that are susceptible to the political pressure of their constituents who fund and govern them. I explained that parents are not given a "free hand" by any means. They are required to report non-attendance and the reasons for it to school authorities and follow school district policy which is written by democratic consensus of that community.

Do these women have authority? Yes. They have tons of authority. This is the team that goes through all the files when they come in to the county attorney. They are the ones who are “looking into things”. They make recommendations for what should happen in each case which for the most part the courts follow these recommendations.

Sitting on the team are social workers, school administrators, judges, and attorneys. Representatives from every agency or department that has “statutory authority” over children. Missing are the parents, who have the primary “statutory authority” over their children.

This team facilitates what Mike Horton experienced when he went to the mass meeting and they had “pre-sorted” the kids, this is the team that triaged (or pre-sorted) them. This team has the power to require a family to come to the court house or not, they recommend monitoring, truancy diversion, etc. They are the team responsible for sending Martha Myles daughter into triage (and yes they had the information about the health issue they just thought it was fishy and that there was possible neglect by the parent). This team is made up of unelected bureaucrats. Who are they accountable too?

This discussion was a reminder that we have a great deal of work left to do. The discussion yesterday tended to ask the question, "How did Nebraska get to this place where families are ripped apart at the second highest rate in the country?" Richard Wexler said that either Nebraska parents are the suffer the most incompetent parenting paradigms in the country or it is the philosophies of the agencies and professionals with statutory authority whose philosophies are incompetent. 

With philosophies that are hostile to family freedom and parental authority guiding those tasked with truancy diversion in our state it is clear that this battle is only beginning. Until people are willing to allow parents their natural rights and tolerate “mistakes in parenting” no child or family is safe from these “authorities” in child welfare.

Richard Wexler said something last night about the difficulty that advocates of reform face when they are dealing with system administrators who firmly believe they are doing what is “best for the child” as they break the bonds between kids and their parents. 

I again thought of the C.S. Lewis quote that is becoming a favorite of mine: “"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

NCCPR REPORT: How to Save Nebraska’s Sinking Child Welfare System

Today a startling report from the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform was released by director, Richard Wexler, at a press conference at the capitol rotunda. The 57 page report on the state of child welfare in Nebraska is a startling call to action. The facts are indisputable! "Nebraska is an extreme outlier, tearing apart families at a rate more than triple the national average." The NCCPR report brings these numbers to life reporting that "if all of America were like Nebraska, more than a million children would be trapped in foster care", while that number currently stands at 400,000. "The obscene rate of child removal drives all of the other problems plaguing Nebraska child welfare."

Family Advocacy Movement, directed by Melanie Williams-Smotherman, hosted a panel discussion this evening that brought together professionals and parents affected by Nebraska's system. The panel consisted of Vicki Maca DHHS administrator working on "Family Matters" the state-wide reform of NE CPS systems, Melanie Williams-Smotherman the director of FAM, James Holt an independent mental health therapist and licenced clinical social worker, Sarah Forrest a policy coordinator for Voices For Children in Nebraska, David Newell the President and CEO of Nebraska Families Collaborative, and Richard Wexler the director of NCCPR.

There was general agreement among panel members that Nebraska's child welfare system is in grave danger; a belief supported by the facts. The main point: Far too many children are removed from their homes. There was general agreement that foster care should be a last resort and that better systems should be in place for prevention. James Holt spoke of his dedication as a professional to solutions that result in family unity, Vicki Maca spoke of the "Families Matter" reforms, Sarah Forest spoke of fairness and justice for kids, but Richard Wexler laid down the gauntlet when he said that the numbers tell the story of whether professionals and state leaders are serious about reform. He said, "Watch the numbers and we'll see if the words matter."

In break-out discussions families and professionals mingled to discuss problems with the system as they have experienced them. Many topics were covered: coordination and contiguity of care, Initial assessments and front door policies, psychotropic medications given to youth in foster care, Physical abuse in the foster care, Financial incentives that incentivize improper care, adversarial court processes, civil rights violations, the influence of CASA, the anonymous hotline and the reporting of erroneous allegations, problems with the abuse register, and a serious break down of trust among all parties affected.

A grandmother who had her young grandchildren removed from her care unloaded a massive pile of  psychotropic medications that her 10 year old grandson has been on since entering foster care several years ago. Truly disturbing was the fact that her grandson had never suffered behavioral or mental illness prior to his removal. David Newell mentioned that California law requires a court order to put a child on psychotropic medications allowing parents an opportunity to seek independent evaluations for the medical care of their children in foster care.

There was significant discussion of court processes and the serious need for families to be better served by high quality representation. Parents and professionals discussed a wide range of abuses such as: the denial of due process, parents left to defend themselves to no effect, and adversarial processes that side line parents. There have been regular reports of public defenders meeting behind closed doors with the judge and prosecutor to make decisions for families before any discussion in open court. Richard Wexler testified that studies of best practices have shown that states that provided high quality legal representation for parents accused of child neglect or abuse witnessed dramatic reductions in foster care placement by leveling the playing field.

The room was in general agreement that these failures have broken down the trust between parents and professionals! This system that tears the family apart at the 2nd highest rate in the nation has not only broken the trust between parents and the state, trust has broken down between the branches of government and the professionals task with serving families in need. Most damaging is the shattered trust between children and parents who fall victim to the system.

It will take the fortitude and commitment of parents, professionals, and government to institute the reforms necessary to begin to rebuild this broken trust and set our state on a track that will serve families in need with respect and ultimately ensure the welfare of our most vulnerable citizens, our children!

Nebraska Family Forum readers may be interested in the side bar on the truancy law in Nebraska on page 41.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Where do we go from here?

The Future of the NFF...

This year has been a wild ride and the serious need to amend Nebraska’s truancy law has brought together an incredible group of Nebraskans. The Nebraska Family Forum is a varied group... parents and grandparents... libertarian to liberals... religious and agnostic... with one thing in common, a passion and commitment to strengthen families by promoting policies in our state that preserve and protect parental authority and the integrity of the family.

There is much work to be done in this state and we need to decide whether the NFF has filled its purpose or whether it is an organization with a mandate to continue to work to preserve family freedom. One thing is certain, if the NFF is to continue to be a force in strengthening Nebraska Families it must officially organize.

The road going forward is what has been on my mind lately and I need each of you to think seriously about your passion and commitment to this cause. Are you willing to play a larger role in the NFF? How will we organize? And, What will be our mission? These are the questions I want each of you to be thinking about as we approach the March 19th organizational wide meeting.

Monday, March 19, 2012
6:30pm until 9:00pm

Paradise Bakery
120 Regency Pkwy Ste 156, Omaha, NE 68114-4307

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If you have been encourage by the progress of the NFF and would like to see this group organize and continue to affect policy in our state then you need to be at the meeting March 19th with your thoughts to these questions in hand. We need a BIG group on the 19th, so do what you can to be there! RSVP via email or Facebook.

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