Sen. Kathy Campbell pushes for foster care improvements

Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln works extensively to improve the child welfare system.

Story and photo by Alisha Tesfalem, NewsNetNebraska

State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln thinks a bill that would increase the pay for foster parents will help improve family stability in Nebraska.

LB820, which the Legislature passed and was signed into law by the governor during the past legislative session, would also alter current foster care licensure requirements and require the state to apply for a federal waiver for a foster care demonstration project.

Campbell said the bill, introduced by the Health and Human Services Committee, which she chairs, would provide funds for children who need counseling services or 24/7 parenting supervision to make sure they are healthy and safe.

“Too often we remove children from their homes because we do not have the community services to serve families and children in the home,” she said.

LB820 will give foster parents and providers an increased rate of $3.10 per day. Total cost of the increase is estimated to be $3 million.

Jenae VanEvery, who has been a foster parent for five years, welcomed the increase.

“Anything is better,” said VanEvery, who testified in favor of the increase at the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee hearing on the bill. “When we first signed up, it was $31 a day to be licensed through an agency and that was doable.”

Nebraska’s total child welfare budget for 2011 was $139.2 million, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

LB820 was one of five Nebraska bills recently introduced regarding child welfare. LB820 was a result of LR37, which studied the privatization effort of the Department of Health and Human Services begun in 2009.

According to a report by the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform of 2009, Nebraska has one of the highest rates of removing presumably “at-risk” children from their homes in the nation.

Campbell insists that there should be more programs that would help families in Nebraska so that they could keep and care for their children themselves.

“We could have more children remain at home if we developed more community services that catered to the home,” Campbell said.

The legislative study of the foster care system indicated that it was important for the state to apply for Title IV-E federal funds and increase the daily stipend of foster parents, Campbell said. Title IV-E is the adoption assistance and foster care program funded by the federal government.

“Applying for Title IV-E funds would allow Nebraska to use funds for services to keep the child in the home if the child can remain safely rather than removing the child,” Campbell said.

Campbell said that another significant problem with Nebraska’s current foster care system is that foster families are not paid uniformly across the state. In addition, case managers have too many cases and cannot adequately provide attention to the children under their supervision.

The state Department of Health and Human Services now is required to apply for a federal waiver for the foster care demonstration project by Sept. 30, 2013.