SPECIAL REPORT: A look at Nebraska’s foster care system and how teens need more help

Statewide, if a child has to be taken out of their home, it takes an average of three placements before finding a stable living situation or going back home.
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 8:11 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Across Nebraska there are thousands of kids who for a variety of reasons from neglect to child abuse, to unsafe homes, are no longer with their own parents. But nearly half, are still with family or kin.

“Nebraska does a phenomenal job,” Stephanie Beasley director of Children and Family Services said. “We are well known by other states, I’m contacted often to say how do you do that so well and we have a pure focus on if a kid has to be removed we’re going to place them with kin and relatives.”

The executive director of the Foster Care Review Office said this is significant.

“Data shows those children tend to have better outcomes,” Monika Gross said. “Placing with relatives is what we call a protective factor that prevents some of the poor outcomes that can result from being in foster care.”

While this is something Nebraska’s foster care system does well, Gross said there are ways the state could improve.

One of those is in limiting the number of placements a child has.

Statewide, if a child has to be taken out of their home, it takes an average of three placements before finding a stable living situation or going back home. For teenagers, that number jumps to more than five placements on average.

“They’re often moved from placement to placement because the placement can’t handle their high needs,” Gross said.

When a child isn’t in a stable housing, it puts them at greater risk of being unable to finish school, and in a few cases, run away and go missing. Right now 69 foster kids are missing, and between those 69, they average nearly eight placements before finding a stable home.

“When they’re missing we don’t know if they’re safe, we don’t know where they are,” Gross said.

Gross said not only do local police keep an eye out for the kids, Children and Family Services staff also investigate the missing kids. But it’s better to focus on prevention, which can come from stable housing, preferably with family or kin.

Right now, 30% of teens are with relatives, while 42% of kids under 12 and under are with relatives.

Gross said relatives would benefit from more services.

“We have to provide not just training for our relative foster homes but also ongoing support,” Gross said. “We have to build support around that home to stabilize the placement.”

The state also needs more foster parents to be willing to take teens.

“We have older youth who are looking for stable placements,” Beasley said. “They are in a home, in a more congregate or group home setting and they want a home with a parent and a place to call their own.”

Beasley said DHHS works with many organizations to provide resources for foster parents. She said they also try to match foster kids with homes best suited for them.

Another issue the Foster Care Review Office is focusing on is addressing the racial disparities in the foster care system. Data shows white non-Hispanic kids make up 42% of the 4,121 kids not in their homes, but 68% of the statewide population of children. Hispanic kids make up 24% of kids in the system and 18% of children in Nebraska. Black kids make up 17% of kids in the system, yet 6% of kids in Nebraska. 4.2% of children in the system identify as Native American compared to 1.1% of children in the state population.

Gross said this is a problem across the country that people in Nebraska are working to address, part of that is being proactive.

“We know a majority of children who enter out of home care, it’s due to neglect and neglect is kind of an umbrella term that covers a lot of things, a lot of those things are related to poverty and the lack of availability of services to families,” Gross said.

“We want to work on being able to connect families to services and support they need without having to ever enter the system.”

If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent in Nebraska, call 1-800-7parent.

If you want to see a breakdown of data compiled by the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office click here: https://fcro.nebraska.gov/#

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