New foster care panel turns focus to kids

LINCOLN -- The Foster Care Review Office is looking to turn its focus back to the children it serves after six child welfare laws were passed last spring, changing Nebraska's child welfare system. Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha paid a visit during the foster care advisory committee’s meeting Sept. 19. He said internal problems with the committee took precedence over the needs of the children before the last legislative session. But now, Krist encouraged the foster care office to return to what the late Sen. Jerome Warner and others intended when it was first created in 1982. He said their efforts to work on collecting and measuring data and starting programs to help kids avoid going into foster care are ways to do that. “I want to cheerlead at this point,” Krist said. Nebraska has more children in foster care compared to many other states. The advisory board’s interim executive director, Linda Cox, said during a break in the public meeting that each state counts foster kids differently. According to Cox, some states only include children who are placed in foster homes because of abuse or neglect and do not count children in foster care because of juvenile delinquency. Other states don’t include children who are placed in family members’ homes, like an uncle, aunt or a grandparent. And some states don’t include children with status offenses, chronic truancy and running away from home. However, Nebraska includes all of these categories in its data. To help the children in Nebraska and to decrease the number of children in foster care, foster care officials are creating new programs to help families avoid entering the foster care system. Cox said youth with delinquency problems will be able to attend diversion meetings to help with substance abuse or mental health issues. Cox said the office also wants to increase the number of in-home services and make them more affordable. This includes more monitoring and supervision and visiting nurses to make sure the children are being cared for and, if necessary, that the parents and children are taking their medications. The advisory committee has also started its search for a new executive director. It is looking for someone who will keep the focus on the children and uphold the purpose of the new organization. The board will accept applications starting Oct. 1 and ending Nov. 16.