Several GiN members attended a public meeting of the Nebraska State Senators representing districts in Lancaster County on Wednesday evening at the Lincoln Public School Districts building at 59th & O Sts. The participating Senators were Bill Avery, District 28, Danielle Conrad, District 46, Kathy Campbell, District 25, Colby Coash, District 27, Amanda McGill, District 26, Norm Wallman, District 30, Tony Fulton, District 29, and Ken Haar, District 27.
We did not learn of the meeting until early Wednesday morning so there was not time to send out an email to our distribution list in advance, unfortunately. Senator Coash did try to let the public know by sending out a press release on November 5, but there was no coverage of it by media until Senator Coash's appearance on Tuesday afternoon's DriveTime Lincoln radio program. I spoke with Senator Coash after the meeting and thanked him for his efforts and we also put out a "GiN Toast".
The meeting was scheduled for half of the time to be focused on the issue of problems in Nebraska's child welfare system and the other half for an open forum. The LPS board room, capacity of 75-100, was quite full for the first portion of the meeting but nearly cleared out at 6:30pm when the time officially allocated to the child welfare system concluded, obviously indicating the majority of those in attendance were focused solely on that issue.
The portion of the meeting allocated to the child welfare system indicated that there are many problems with the system and that recent efforts at reform, which seem to have been hastily implemented, have actually worsened the situation. While disconcerting and important, the specifics of this subject are not something that falls particularly within our areas of focus.
A very brief and broad summary here can only be made from the perspective of a concerned taxpayer, and one whose philosophy on matters such as this is generally that there are few things government does well. It comes as no surprise to me that as government has expanded, it has become less competent. The many problems in the current child welfare system in Nebraska seem to have been caused by a very top-down, unresponsive bureaucracy. There seemed some consensus on the point that a one-size-fits-all mentality is having a negative impact on children. The system is too clunky and cookie cutter to an extent that too many children are being removed from their homes unnecessarily and the process for establishing the road map to resolution too lengthy and counterproductive. Because so many children are in the system, it is overburdened which only creates a cycle of lack of resources and responsiveness.
It should be of concern to all Nebraskans that we have a higher number of children currently in foster care than most other states. While Senators did indicate an interest in getting to the bottom of just why that is the case, there did not seem to be any available answers.
It is quite obvious that if the number of children receiving services was reduced, an overburdened system would have the ability to allocate resources to improve. So, a top priority in sorting out the many problems would seem to be a thorough analysis of the system as pertains to why children are removed from their parents, the decision processes, and the time line for implementing individual plans.
While there was a mixture of apparent opinions regarding whether or not the system should be totally private, totally public, or some combination, what was clear to an observer is that none of the configurations to date are working and none will if some systemic issues are not addressed.
Two philosophies emerged that I found disconcerting. The first was a belief that recent decisions by the Governor and administrators to partly privatize the system so quickly meant that privatization itself is inherently bad. Decisions to date have been made by government; it's government's choices of service providers, system configurations and solutions that has been problematic, not a free market. However, there were some who did advocate for competition in the system. The second philosophy I found troubling was advocated by a therapist who actually stated that the payer should not determine care. As Linda pointed out by jotting a question in my notebook at the time, "If not, who does?"
While the many particulars of the whole issue are not something about which I am well studied, I could not help but think while I was listening, that the issue does fit into the "bigger picture" within the state that I have spent time looking into.
The issue is inextricably tied to the issue of the state budget, which is clearly to be the number one issue facing our state.
In the second article about the meeting, which I hope to publish tomorrow, I will review the discussion that occurred on this subject.