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Children's Advocates Tap Big Data for Lawmakers in Washington


Monday, April 1, 2019   

LINCOLN, Neb. – Officials from child welfare agencies in Nebraska and across the country are headed to Washington this month to exchange hard-won lessons for helping children and families navigate foster care, adoption and child abuse prevention.

They'll also meet with lawmakers to highlight some of the challenges that agencies face implementing recent reforms.

John Sciamanna, vice president for public policy for the Child Welfare League of America, says officials also will be bringing evidence-based data to help members of Congress get an accurate snapshot of how children are faring in congressional districts.

"When we send our members – from a particular state, Nebraska – we want them to be able to educate their member of Congress exactly what's going on in their state," Sciamanna states.

The goal of the Family First Prevention Services Act, passed in February 2018, is to direct more resources to families at risk of entering the child welfare system.

In an effort to reduce the number of children entering foster care, for example, child welfare agencies are eligible for federal reimbursements for providing mental health services, substance abuse treatment and in-home parenting-skill training.

The measure also provides incentives for states to find alternatives to placing children in institutions.

Sciamanna points to data showing that certain trends continue to pose challenges for children.

African-American children are disproportionately represented in the foster system, and older children – from eight years into teen years – still struggle to find a permanent family.

He adds that Nebraska, like many states grappling with the opioid crisis, has seen significant increases in the number of children in foster care over the past five years.

"A lot of it is driven by the drug problem,” he states. “And so as a result you're also seeing an increase in the number of children waiting to be adopted, and being adopted."

Sciamanna points out for agencies to make good on goals outlined in recent reforms, they'll need more support in building the capacity for programs that have been effective in helping keep children from entering the foster system.

He says additional funding for preventive, community-based intervention and support services also would help stop child abuse before it happens.

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