Nebraska is the best place to raise a family. We have safe and supportive communities. We have great schools. We have world-class zoos, fantastic children’s museums and beautiful national and local parks. And Nebraska’s children benefit from our state’s strong culture of community engagement and mentorship.
I may be biased since I grew up in Nebraska, but you don’t have to take my word for it that our state is a great place for kids. Nebraska consistently ranks high in child protection measures. Each year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes its Kids Count data book which assesses the well-being of children in all 50 states. Nebraska has been in the top 10 for three consecutive years, ranking 8th in 2022. This year, we were #1 in the nation for child economic well-being. Overall, we are ranked higher than all neighboring states.
However, we know that the pandemic has affected children. Due to the coronavirus, they have been spending time out of the classroom and disconnected from their friends. We have worked hard in Nebraska to mitigate its negative impacts.
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Research has clearly shown that students learn best in the classroom. We also know that children in the classroom had, on average, better physical and mental health. Here in Nebraska, schools have done a great job of helping kids get back to school. Nebraska was the sixth-best state to get kids back into classrooms after the coronavirus outbreak. Politico gave our state the highest marks in the nation for our response to the pandemic, including ranking us fourth for how we handled education.
Relatively speaking, we had little learning loss compared to other states. Our educators have played a key role in this achievement. There were times when many teachers worked double duty to prepare lessons for both in-person and remote learners. Thank you Nebraska educators for all you have done since the spring of 2020 to help our children succeed.
The pandemic has also been hard on families. We have seen an almost 30% increase in child protection cases from July 2019 to October 2021. Our team at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has done an excellent job of responding to the need increasing number of child protection services. We have dedicated more state resources to manage the increase in cases.
For example, we have allocated $20 million of reprofiled funds from 2021 to this year to meet the needs. And we have dedicated $10 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help serve the growing number of children in the child welfare system.
We also know that the pandemic has affected the mental well-being of children. That’s why the state has prioritized using ARPA funds to invest in pediatric mental health facilities. This includes:
$10 million to expand mental health urgent care centers throughout Nebraska
$10 million for a public-private partnership to build a youth behavioral health center
$10 million for an adolescent mental health development day school to serve young people affected by the pandemic
Over the past eight years, the quality of child welfare in Nebraska has benefited greatly from strong public-private partnerships focused on prevention. Through the Bring Up Nebraska initiative, we have been able to serve thousands of children and families in communities across the state. This proactive mindset is key to preventing abuse and neglect and strengthening Nebraska families. Beginning October 1, DHHS is launching new programs to continue our alternative response approach.
Family Centered Treatment: a 4-6 month in-home trauma treatment program that aims to identify key issues facing the family at home by increasing positive parenting skills and providing therapeutic services to address mental health needs and substance use.
Healthy Families America: a home visiting program for new and future families with children at risk of maltreatment.
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy: a therapeutic program for children and adolescents who present with symptoms associated with exposure to trauma.
Unida Families: a family-centered intervention that aims to prevent substance use and risky sexual behaviors among Hispanic adolescents and to empower parents by improving communication and improving parenting skills.
Nebraskanians working in child welfare provide excellent services to children in our state. Their compassionate care is one of the main reasons Nebraska continues to rank among the top US states for child welfare. Thank you to the state teammates and the many other Nebraska partners who invest in the well-being of our children.
If you have any questions about our approach to child welfare in Nebraska, please contact me at [email protected] or 402-471-2244.