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Senator: Psych drugs might be over-prescribed for state wards

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012
A 2010 study of 1,159 foster children in Nebraska showed 22.5 percent were taking psychiatric drugs. The drugs prescribed were stimulants for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, antidepressants and antianxiety medications, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers -- all powerful drugs with potentially serious side effects. In this session, Omaha Sen. Gwen Howard has renewed her efforts with a bill (LB837) to examine policies and procedures for prescribing and administering those mental health and behavior modification drugs for state wards. The 12-member task force that would be created would cost the state up to $3,000. In December, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report highlighted the need for guidance in prescribing and administering the powerful drugs for foster children. National awareness of the issue has increased in recent years, with congressional hearings and media attention in a number of states. A 2011 study by the Georgia Supreme Court said the complexity of the drugs, and their long-term effects on children who still are rapidly growing, dictate caution and special expertise in prescribing for children -- especially those whose parent is the state. Read more: [...]
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Program could lead to child welfare changes

Monday, January 23rd, 2012
A pilot program that focuses on the emotional needs of abused and neglected children is being implemented in Tribland and eventually could reshape the approach to child welfare in the state. Permanency Quest will involve 20 select children involved in the Court-Appointed Special Advocates of South Central Nebraska program from the organization's four-county area: Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster. CASA is an organization of volunteers who advocate for children in some abuse and neglect cases and follow them through the court system. The model will be tested over the next five years, and information will be gathered about measurable outcomes with the children involved. Funding for the Permanency Quest program is provided by a five-year grant from the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. If the pilot succeeds, the plan would be to widen the scope of the program to eventually cover the entire state. The program will be based on the 3-5-7 Model developed by Darla Henry of Pennsylvania after 40 years of social work. The model or its elements have been introduced into the child welfare systems in California, Delaware, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Under the model, Henry said, the child welfare system eventually should see the need for fewer placements, the need for fewer days of care, and quicker movement toward reunification or adoption. Henry explained the 3-5-7 Model during a seminar in Hastings earlier this week for caseworkers, state officials, lawyers, counselors, school representatives and others involved in the child welfare system. [...]
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Firing fuels interest in dumping panel

Saturday, January 21st, 2012
State Foster Care Review Board members could find themselves on the hot seat after removing its longtime director, Carol Stitt, on Friday. A key state lawmaker said the board's action fueled interest in a bill that would eliminate the board and make its agency an arm of the Legislature. "I think a great number of us will be looking at (the) bill," said State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, who is chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee. Campbell said she heard from several senators Friday, including some who made the unusual request to testify at next week's public hearing on the proposal. Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, who introduced Legislative Bill 925, said several senators signed on as co-sponsors after the board's decision to oust Stitt. The measure would eliminate the volunteer board that now runs the review agency. "We brought them into this world, and we can take them out," Krist said. Lawmakers created the agency in 1982 to oversee citizen reviews of children in the foster care system, monitor facilities that house children, collect information and make recommendations about the child welfare system. Earlier Friday, review board members voted unanimously to end Stitt's 29-year tenure as executive director. The action took effect immediately, but Stitt will remain as a consultant through May 1 and will receive full salary and benefits through that time. The board also agreed to pay her health insurance for another 18 months. Kathy Bigsby Moore, the retired head of Voices for Children of Nebraska, was named interim executive director of the review board. [...]
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Chief Justice: Courts poised to help the elderly and children

Thursday, January 19th, 2012
Nebraska's court system is poised to help with efforts to further protect the state's aging population and children who fall victim to abuse or neglect, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican told lawmakers on Thursday. In his annual State of the Judiciary Address, Heavican praised lawmakers for passing a bill (LB157) last year to reform the state's system for guardianships and conservatorships for the elderly. "Your actions were both timely and far-sighted," he said. While the total population of the state is expected to grow 11 percent by 2030, the number of Nebraskans between the ages of 70 and 79 is expected to grow by more than 80 percent during that same time, Heavican said. Read more: [...]
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Hearings coming for child welfare bills

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
The Legislature begins bill hearings Tuesday and among them are a list that would address child welfare reform -- the issue identified by both the Legislature and Gov. Dave Heineman as a major focus for the 2012 session. Seven bills have been introduced by the Health and Human Services Committee or its members. Other senators also have sponsored child welfare-related bills. The Health and Human Services Committee put out a 400-page report in December that included 18 recommendations meant to guide the state in how reform, started in 2009, should proceed. Major recommendations include transferring foster care case management back to the state from private providers in the southeastern and eastern service areas, and creating a Children's Commission to oversee child welfare, a separate Department of Children's Services and a position of inspector general to investigate state and private agencies that serve children. Read more: [...]
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KVC child welfare contract amended to provide more money

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

KVC child welfare contract amended to provide more money
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Another change made to the child welfare contract with KVC Behavioral Healthcare will cost the state $1.8 million more this year.
Department of Health and Human Services CEO Kerry Winterer told a committee of senators Thursday that without the payment for increased costs, the state’s lead [...]

Questions about child welfare to dominate Nebraska Legislature

Sunday, January 1st, 2012
Nebraska's 2012 legislative session looks to be the year of the child. During the next four months, lawmakers will wrestle with key questions about the future of child welfare and juvenile justice in the state. How they answer — or don't answer — those questions will shape the lives of abused and neglected Nebraska children and youthful troublemakers. "I think this is going to be one of the more significant issues that we deal with," said State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha. "We have a responsibility to these young people." The debate will include whether to pull back on the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services' controversial experiment in privatizing child welfare. Lawmakers also will look at creating a state children's agency, setting up an advisory commission on child welfare, raising pay for foster parents and shifting responsibility for juvenile delinquents away from HHS. [...]
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Heineman, lawmakers at odds over welfare

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011
Gov. Dave Heineman voiced concerns Tuesday that recommendations to mend the state's troubled effort to privatize child welfare services will cost too much and add more bureaucracy. “I don't think I've been a governor who's suggested we need more bureaucracy and more cost. We're trying to make government leaner,? Heineman said in a conference call with reporters. But two state senators who helped craft the recommendations said that while additional spending might be required, the current system isn't meeting the needs of abused and neglected children under state care and that it is already costing more tax dollars. “As it stands right now, the executive branch has run amok by allowing HHS to throw money at a problem. It's not working,? said Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, a member of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee. Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, the committee chairwoman, added that one recommendation, to create a new Department of Children's Services within the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, would consolidate many state workers who now deal with troubled kids and families but operate in separate “silos.? “If you brought those people together in one agency, you can really focus on the problems and focus on stability for the future,? Campbell said. The exchange, in separate interviews, came after the governor made his first public comments on the recommendations by lawmakers at the conclusion of a months-long study of the troubled privatization effort. [...]
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Report: Reverse child welfare privatization

Friday, December 16th, 2011
Saying Nebraska is failing in its responsibilities to children, a panel of state lawmakers called Thursday for pulling back on the controversial privatization of child welfare services. In the final report from a months-long investigation, the Health and Human Services Committee proposed sweeping changes aimed at creating better outcomes for children and better financial oversight for the state. The report could mark the beginning of the end for Nebraska's two-year-old experiment in turning over to private contractors the bulk of duties for ensuring the safety and well-being of abused and neglected children in the state. But it also sets up a potential conflict between lawmakers and Gov. Dave Heineman, who has resisted previous calls to slow or halt his administration's privatization effort. The governor had no immediate comments about the proposals. Jen Rae Hein, his spokeswoman, said he had not seen the inch-thick report yet. [...]
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Giving a Life to Gain a Life: National Adoption Day

Monday, November 21st, 2011
There are 107,000 children currently in Foster Care waiting for forever homes, one in five will never find a family, never know adoption or know what it's like to call someone mom. In Kearney, on Saturday, as celebrations for eight families coincided with national celebrations, more children waited for the moment to be called part of a family. "Mommy and daddy adopt us," said one little girl of her aunt and uncle, now mom and dad. A fairy tale, a happily ever after, a story that starts with a forever family. "A lot of people really do say that we've done such a great thing and I just see that we've kept them together," said Jessica Smith. It was a family of three brothers and sisters, and an aunt and uncle who made a life changing decision. "They were my nieces and nephews and we took all three of them in a couple years ago and then when they're parents signed over their rights we adopted them in September," she said. The Smith's story is one of thousands that take place every year and get celebrated on National Adoption Day. "It's a day of celebration for families that have endured an often long and complicated process and come out the back door of the court in the most positive way," said an Adoption Judge. [...]
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