Tuesday, March 13, 2012

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. http://www.nccpr.org/nebraskagateway/fullreport062424.pdf

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie, thank you for a wonderful article. It's the best written and most comprehensive of any other written about Richard's report. Excellent!