Nebraska Children staff testifies for more normalcy for foster youth

Yesterday, Nebraska Children’s Assistant Vice President of Youth Policy, Cassy Blakely, testified in support of LB 746: Nebraska’s Strengthing Families Act. In her testimony, Cassy focused on how the bill represents a shift from a system-oriented focus on foster care to a youth-drive, relationship-based network of care that more closely aligns with the ideal situation — a loving family.



Chairwoman Campbell and members of the Health and Human Services Committee,

I come before you today on behalf of Nebraska Children and Families Foundation to voice our support of LB 746, the Nebraska Strengthening Families Act.  Throughout this hearing, you’ll hear testimony parsing out details, and that is important discussion.  However, for now I ask you to consider the bigger message this bill sends; that of a shift away from foster care as a system and towards foster care as a relationship between caregivers (foster parents, group home staff, biological parents, judges, and caseworkers) and children.  Unfortunately, many current systems are procedural, cold, and standardized. They leave little room for nurturing, voice, or risk-taking…factors we all relied on in our transition to adulthood and that we pull from in parenting our own children.  And, let’s be real…while state systems were never intended to raise children, they do, for however long or short a child’s stay in care.  The Nebraska Strengthening Families Act supports a shift towards a system mindful of its responsibility to provide a child or youth with a strong family while in the state’s care.  It will never replace a youth’s family, but rather extends it and encourages everyone who cares for that youth to work collaboratively, with the young adult towards shared goals.

I have been blessed during my near decade at Nebraska Children to work almost exclusively with Project Everlast, specifically with their youth councils and youth partners.  In fact, I’ve sat in this room many times proudly watching a young adult find power in their experience by speaking before you on a bill that inspired them to action. The youth’s mantra of “nothing about us, without us” has driven Project Everlast since 2002.  This bill aims to imbed that same mantra into our foster care system at all levels.  It fundamentally changes the approach.  Quite simply, implementation of this bill could have stopped at the writing of a few new DHHS policies.   Instead, partners, including Nebraska Children, Appleseed and the Department opened the conversation to stakeholders, including foster parents, youth, biological parents, and providers through a series of stakeholder meetings, focus groups and surveys to inform Nebraska’s implementation. Nebraska’s commitment to inclusion promotes normalcy on a higher level by providing opportunities for youth to have a voice and practice essential life skills in their case, placement, and communities.  To explore how passage of LB 746 facilitates the opportunity for young adults to grow in more normative ways, we will return to our three essential qualities mentioned before; nurturing, voice, and risk-taking.

Let’s begin with the scariest of these…risk-taking.  A 2014 Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative paper applies adolescent brain development research to youth in foster care.  It describes how chemical changes in the adolescent brain that prime teens for risk-taking also create the capacity for young people to practice adult roles and responsibilities while in a supported environment.1 This moves foster care placements towards an environment like this by allowing youth to experience responsibility and trust.  Access to normal activities, increased understanding of one’s rights while in care, and an explanation of essential life documents equip youth with the knowledge and opportunities to take smarter, more calculated risks that are a natural part of becoming an adult.

Additionally, the Nebraska Strengthening Families Act’s inclusion of youth in their own case promotes trust.  A focus group participant stated, “Trust goes both ways”.  Youth want to be trusted and they want to trust their caregivers.  However, this demands honest communication, another common theme among youth focus group participants. Throughout my time with Project Everlast, I’ve heard youth share that they often feel talked about, not talked with. They doubt what they’re told and rely on partial information.  Thus risk-taking becomes about control, rather than exploring abilities and building skills.  Placing youth in a prominent position at the table for all conversations concerning their case provides opportunities to ask questions, take an active role in their lives, and identify opportunities for supported risk-taking.  Again, this bill shifts foster care from a system that processes to a family that includes.

Second, the Strengthening Families Act’s culture shift pushes our system to recognize the unique needs of individual youth and families by allowing opportunities for youth voice.  Inclusion constitutes such a significant intent of this bill that the phase “ask/consult/discuss with the child” is used nine times.  And this doesn’t take into account the number of times such efforts must be documented by the court, caseworker, and Guardian ad Litem nor the inclusion of three young adults in the Children’s Commission Taskforce. Voice was essential to the federal bill and remains central to Nebraska’s implementation.

Further emphasis is placed on voice through the inclusion of youth in team meetings and court hearings.  Such inclusion not only provides youth with essential information to feel safe in their placement, but teaches the life skill of communicating one’s needs.  Specifically, LB 476 outlines youths’ explicit inclusion in court, team meetings, transition planning, their relationship with their Guardian ad Litem, and in making the decision for APPLA or “independent living” as their permanency goal.  As a mom, my children are sure to share their voices with me, often loudly.  The Strengthening Families Act simply provides youth this same opportunity.  The difference…my kids holler about what shoes to wear to daycare; a youth in care voices their opinion about where they want to live, who they want in their lives, and the skills they need to be ready to for adulthood.

Finally, and I’d argue most importantly, LR 746 pushes for a more nurturing system.  Time after time, I see Project Everlast youth partners respond to their peers in care as their family.  They feel a responsibility to one another that’s driven by love, shared experience, and hope for the future.  I saw this recently at a statewide gathering of youth representatives from each of Project Everlast’s local youth councils.  They met at a lodge in western Nebraska, where they cooked meals together, taught by one of our Youth Advisors, and held their business meeting on couches while their kids played.  One youth who’d been in care for seven years and on her own for two, stopped me during dinner.  As she looked down the table at her peers, laughing and eating, she said, “I want to cry because I don’t remember the last time I sat at the dinner table with a family.”  That is the kind of big picture normalcy this act promotes.

A 2015 Harvard University Center on the Developing Child paper states, “Resilience requires supportive relationships and opportunities for skill building. The single most common factor for children who end up doing well is having the support of at least one stable and committed relationship…”2 In addition to the opportunity to simply sit alongside the adults in their case and discuss their wants, needs, and dreams, this act connects youth in two ways: access to age-appropriate activities and purposeful identification of informal supports through the foster care process.

You’ll likely hear a great deal about the importance of access to age-appropriate activities from other testifiers, so let me focus on the second method: the connection to supportive adults.

This act allows youth to identify a personal advisor to serve as their advocate at team meetings.  This seems fairly straightforward; however, it requires identification of the important people in the youth’s life, creating an environment at team meetings that works for the youth and their advisor, and efforts to support the youth in maintaining that relationship.  Further, the act requires permanent connections to be continually pursued even after a shift to a goal of APPLA. These steps provide youth opportunities to practice healthy relationship skills with the support of the adults assigned their care, while ensuring they have support after they leave foster care.  Again, we are returned to our big picture…a system that cares for youth in all the messy, creative, and complicated ways youth need.

It’s been exciting and humbling to work alongside so many advocates, young adults, professionals and DHHS staff dedicated to doing what’s best for youth in care.  And, I truly believe they are all committed to that purpose. I look forward to all the difficult, but essential work ahead.  Thank Senator Campbell for your unwavering dedication to youth with system-involvement and to the support of the other senators who have signed on to this bill. As you consider the Nebraska Strengthening Families Act, I hope you’ll remember the big picture. I strongly encourage you to advance LB 746, as an acknowledgment of our responsibility to provide a true home, driven by unconditional love, for the children and young adults that must spend some time in our foster care system.

 1 Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. (2014). What’s Going on in There? Understanding the Adolescent Brain and Its Implications for Young People Transitioning from Foster Care. Issue Brief.
2 National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2015). Supportive Relationships and Active Skill-Building Strengthen the Foundations of Resilience: Working Paper 13.

Nebraska Children added to national Youth Thrive Learning Collaborative


The Center for the Study of Social Policy yesterday announced five organizations nationwide to be inducted into the Youth Thrive™ Learning Community. Nebraska Children and Families Foundation was one of the five organizations.

The purpose of the Youth Thrive Learning Community is to convene organizations that are leading the way in youth development and child well-being and provide them a framework to strengthen their policies, programs, training, services and operations to support the healthy development of youth in their care.

“Well-being is a cornerstone of the efforts by both the public and private sectors to help youth in crisis,” said Susan Notkin, CSSP Associate Director and Youth Thrive team lead. “This learning community will begin to lay an even stronger foundation for ensuring that whenever a young person is involved with a public system, they will thrive, be safe, affirmed and healthy and have the tools they need to be successful adults.”

Nebraska Children is a public-private partnership that has received national recognition for its work helping young people with foster care and juvenile justice experience become independent, contributing adults. Just this summer, the organization was awarded a multi-million dollar federal grant to expand older youth work to rural communities across Nebraska.

“We at Nebraska Children are honored and excited to be part of the Youth Thrive Learning Community,” said Jason Feldhaus, Vice President of the Connected Youth Initiative at Nebraska Children. “We’re focused on continuous quality improvement and believe this framework will strengthen our efforts and provide more positive outcomes for the children, families and young people we serve.”

Nebraska Children is already working in seven Nebraska communities to develop systems for improving child well-being. The technical assistance and support from the Youth Thrive™ Learning Community will only strengthen those efforts.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Nebraska to promote, measure and improve child well-being over the long term,” said Jennifer Skala, Senior Vice President at Nebraska Children.


About Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP)

Established in 1979 as part of the University of Chicago, The Center for the Study of Social Policy works to secure equal opportunities and better futures for all children and families, especially those most often left behind.  Underlying all of the work is a vision of child, family and community well-being. It’s a unifying framework for the many policy, systems reform and community change activities in which CSSP engages.  Find out more at


ONE YEAR IN | Project Everlast Lincoln measures its impact

After more than two years of community-based, youth-driven planning, Project Everlast Lincoln began offering services in October of 2014. Looking back over the first year of implementation, Nebraska Children is pleased to see that we’ve had the opportunity to serve more youth than we thought we could.

What is Project Everlast Lincoln (PEL)?

PEL is a coordinated network of services designed to provide help with housing, basic living skills, education, employment, transportation and health care to young people who are aging out of foster care without families.

“What’s truly innovative about the Project Everlast model is that it doesn’t reinvent the wheel,” said Betty Medinger, Vice President at Nebraska Children. “We are able to bring the community together, harness the strengths that are already present, and work together to expand services to this unique audience of young people.”

A strong backbone

Consistent with the conditions of Collective Impact, the PEL model relies heavily on backbone support provided by Nebraska Children. In its role as a backbone organization, Nebraska Children coordinates efforts of partners, ensures the sharing of data, and sources private/public funding to ensure that efforts are sustainable. Why is this important? A solid backbone organization makes it possible for the partners to do what they do best — provide services.

The year in numbers

  • 66 youth received Need-Based Funds to help them through emergencies
  • 62 youth used common referral services
  • 34 youth participated in Opportunity Passport(TM) to receive financial literacy training and savings match to pay off debt or purchase a car, education, home or other critical asset
  • 83 youth currently on wait list for Opportunity Passport
  • 12 youth placed in safe, affordable housing
  • 6 youth received family finding services
  • 12 current members of the Project Everlast Lincoln Youth Council


The premise of the Project Everlast model is to fund and coordinate partners who already have experience and processes in place providing certain services. In Lincoln and Southeast Nebraska, we had several ready made partners available that provide an outstanding level of services. Nebraska Children has been honored to work with these outstanding partners to build a system of care for older youth aging out of the system:

  • The HUB coordinates the Needs-Based Fund and provides centralized service referrals
  • Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties administers Opportunity Passport, and related education
  • CEDARS provides housing assistance and help for pregnant and parenting youth
  • Christian Heritage handles family finding services
  • Blue Valley Community Action Partnership covers the needs of youth outside of Lancaster County

What’s coming up

PEL has applied for special funding that will establish a Career Pathways model that will provide job readiness training for PEL participants


Sixpence Success in Columbus

The Sixpence Early Learning Program is an innovative public-private partnership that funds school districts around the state to create high-quality early learning experiences for babies and toddlers in poverty, with teen parents and exposed to other risk factors. The program is unique in that as much focus is placed on educating the parent to be their child’s most effective teacher.


Jaime feeds and chats with her daughter, Violeta.

Jaime was not yet a senior in high school when she learned she was expecting her first baby. As frightening as that realization was, Jamie knew she could choose to give her child a better start by seeking
help from the Early Steps to School Success program offered through the local Sixpence partnership in Columbus, NE. Working with the program staff, Jaime received prenatal care during her pregnancy, participated in home visiting services, and made healthy choices for herself and her child.

When Violeta was born in May 2014, Jaime continued to meet regularly with early childhood professionals through the Sixpence-funded home visiting program. These specialists taught Jaime how to nurture Violeta’s early development by coaching her as her daughter’s most important caregiver and educator.

Jaime started school as a full-time senior this year, and is working hard with a goal of continuing her education in college to earn a degree in nursing. Jaime is confident that the Sixpence-funded Early Steps to School Success program had an enormous impact on her life and that of her young daughter.


“The program has helped me
make better choices . . . It helped
me to prepare for the baby, and
now that she’s here, I have more
information about her growth,
her development—everything
about her.”


“The program has helped me make better choices,” said Jaime, adding how much she valued the emotional support she received. “I understand that I am very important to someone (her home visitor). It helped me to prepare for the baby, and now that she’s here, I have more information about her growth, her development—everything about her.”

Sixpence and Early Steps to School Success were instrumental in helping Jaime choose a path to success for herself and her child that might otherwise have been closed to them. Given the right kinds of supports, Jaime is well on her way to becoming a self-sufficient, skilled parent, while Violeta is getting the early interactions, experiences and environments she’ll need to thrive in school and beyond.

Care packages for Nebraska foster youth


For the fourth year, Project Everlast youth councils will be collecting items and donations for care packages. The councils will assemble, wrap and distribute packages to young people in foster care, or who have just aged out, who don’t have family to share the holidays with this year.

“Everyone deserves some joy over the season,” said Jessica Hilderbrand of Project Everlast, who’s heading up this year’s initiative. “These care packages are all about telling young people that they are loved and that we’re thinking of them.”

Care packages can include practical items – like blankets, non-perishable food items and toiletries. But fun things are just as welcome! Young people aging out of the system don’t usually have the discretionary income to spend on things like movies, restaurants, or new clothes.


If you’re in Omaha, contact Katy Spratte from the Friends of Nebraska Children to discuss donating items to for a care package. You may also order directly from the Project Everlast Omaha youth wish list on Amazon.


For all other communities, contact Jessica at  to get in touch with the Project Everlast council in your community, or make a cash donation now.

Kids need to be kids . . . especially when they’re in foster care

Prudent Parent Infographic --Red Banner w_o Logo

Nebraska policymakers are currently discussing how to implement the Strengthening Families Act (SFA) in our state. While there are many parts to this important legislation, what we believe will be most critical to system-served youth are the components that relate to “normalcy.”

SFA instructs state to allow foster parents to use their judgement when deciding what activities children should be involved in . . . kind of like normal parents do. Currently, young people in foster care have to overcome stringent — sometimes almost absurd — barriers in order to participate in regular childhood activities. Participating in sports, going over to friends’ houses, having a sleepover, getting a first job in high-school — all of these “normal” activities that help children develop character and strong relationships are practically off-limits to youth in foster care. SFA could change that for the better, depending on how Nebraska policy makers implement it.

Tomorrow, a report on the importance of normalcy will be released which will hopefully help policymakers understand just how important it is for kids to have the opportunity to be kids.

The following information is from the Normalcy Stakeholders Group. It provides a good breakdown of SFA, what’s at stake with the conversation of normalcy for youth in care, and their own recommendations for how Nebraska should implement.


Letting Kids be Kids
Implementing the Strengthening Families Act in Nebraska

Important work is underway in Nebraska and nationally to improve “normalcy” for children and
youth in foster care. In September 2014, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (also known as the Strengthening Families Act or SFA). In Nebraska, a broad group of stakeholders, with young people at the forefront, have come together to determine how to best implement the SFA in our state.

What is “Normalcy”?
“Normalcy” is about letting kids in foster care be kids by ensuring they are able to participate in the age-and developmentally- appropriate activities and experiences that are essential to their
development. Childhood and adolescence for many involves fun and enriching activities such as spending time at summer camp, participating in sports, music, debate, having sleepovers, hanging out with friends and finding a job. Research supports that these activities guide children and youth in building lasting relationships, help in the process of self-identity, allow for healthy exploration of new interests, and prepare for the transition into a successful adulthood. It turns out that being allowed to be a kid is very important to becoming a healthy adult. But youth in foster care often do not have the same opportunities for these childhood experiences and face barriers to their participation.

What is the Strengthening Families Act?
The SFA includes provisions to protect children and youth at risk of becoming sex trafficking victims, improve adoption incentives and support guardianships, as well a set of provisions focused on normalcy.

With regard to normalcy, the SFA instructs states to:

  • Implement the reasonable and prudent parent standard to allow foster parents to use their best judgment in making day-to-day decisions including what activities youth can take part in
  • Limit the use of APPLA or Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (known as
    independent living in Nebraska) as a permanency goal for youth under 16
  • Involve youth ages 14 and older in their case plan and provide them with a list of rights
  • Provide youth at age 18 with important documents (e.g., birth certificate, social security card, etc.)before they leave foster care

What is the normalcy stakeholder group?
Over 300 young people and other stakeholders were involved in the process to develop to a set of recommendations on the implementation of the normalcy provisions of the SFA in Nebraska. This process included:

  • Two full day meetings where over 45 child welfare stakeholders and young people met to learn about the SFA and create an initial set of recommendations
  • Youth focus groups with 33 young people (ages 14-24) from Lincoln, Curtis, Fremont and Geneva (YRTC)
  • Input on the recommendations from 33 foster parents in a survey created by Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Families Association
  • Focus groups with parents organized by Nebraska Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
  • Input on the recommendations from over 200 stakeholders (including case workers, judges, attorneys/GALs, DHHS and NFC staff, foster parents, educators and other advocates) in a survey created by Nebraska Appleseed


The following are an initial set of stakeholder recommendations based on consensus
identified through this process.

Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard (RPPS)
The RPPS and normalcy should be applied to all children and youth (including those in the system due to child welfare, juvenile justice, status offense or mental health) in all placements and levels of care.

  •  Nebraska statute should state that children in care have the right to take part in age- and
    developmentally-appropriate activities.
  • A grievance process should be available for youth who feel they have not been heard or are facing consistent disagreement about normalcy activities.
  • DHHS and the juvenile courts should work collaboratively to remove or reduce barriers to youth’s participation in age- and developmentally-appropriate activities.
  • Nebraska statute should include a description that the legal rights of biological parents are not impacted by the RPPS (meaning parents whose rights have not been terminated still retain their constitutional and other existing rights with respect to their children and that those rights and their important role must be respected).
  • Nebraska statute should require the juvenile court to provide oversight (i.e., make court findings) to ensure that, for all youth (not just those age 16 and older, as required by the SFA), the caregiver is following the RPPS and that the youth has regular, ongoing opportunities to engage in age or developmentally appropriate activities.

Youth Notice of Rights
The notice of rights to youth should include all rights under state and federal law, not just those
enumerated in the SFA.

Case Planning

  • The case plan should document what efforts were made to engage the youth in case planning (this should be required to be documented) and how the youth participated in the case planning process (but this should not be required to be documented).
  • Nebraska statute should require the juvenile court to ask the youth if they participated in the development of their case plan and make findings about whether they were involved in case planning.

The report also details stakeholder group recommendations around ensuring older youth that still have a permanency plan of APPLA have supportive connections and requiring a more comprehensive “discharge packet” of documents and having the juvenile court provide oversight to make sure the youth has received pre-discharge documents before the case is closed.

What are the next steps?
With many stakeholders involved in this process in a short timeframe, there were areas where consensus was not found and areas where follow up work is still needed, including considerations of RPPS activities, training, and funding, cultural considerations, and youth rights. The stakeholder group and smaller workgroups will be meeting in the coming months to consider these and other issues, and to continue collaborating to improve normalcy for youth.

In Nebraska, DHHS has already begun implementation of the SFA and we have a number of best practices in place. But there is more work that needs to be done, including amending Nebraska law, policy and practice, to fully implement the SFA with these recommendations to ensure that Nebraska kids in foster care can be kids.

Beyond School Bells unveils mobile maker lab in Nebraska

Beyond School Bells, a collaboration of Nebraska Children, recently unveiled TMC Labs. TMC (Think, Make, Create) labs is a 6’x12′ trailer that houses hands-on, interactive learning resources in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts.

Jeff Cole of Nebraska Children unveils TMC Lab with KCLC staff members.
Jeff Cole of Nebraska Children unveils TMC Lab with KCLC staff members.

We delivered the TMC Labs mobile makerspace to the Kearney Community Learning Center (KCLC) earlier this week,” said Jennifer Jones, Beyond School Bells Project Director. “We chose KCLC as our pilot site, and we’re excited for their students, the program and the community to make the most of this resource.”

A look inside TMC Labs, Nebraska's first mobile makerspace
A look inside TMC Labs, Nebraska’s first mobile makerspace

How will a mobile makerspace work in Kearney?

TMC Labs is first mobile makerspace for Nebraska’s afterschool programs. Kearney is one of the 10 communities that is participating in Beyond School Bells Community Coalition work.   Through the TMC Lab, KCLC youth will access maker spaces in their afterschool and summer program. The TMC Lab will provide KCLC students with interactive learning resources—including electronics, textiles, various arts, robotics—and allow students the ability to “make” and be creative. The mobile makerspace is equipped with roll-out carts, tables and a canopy—so that work and creativity can occur indoors or outdoors.

Roller carts and STEM and Arts supplies make it easy to open the makerspace up and spread out activities at whatever site it visits.
Roller carts and STEM and Arts supplies make it easy to open the makerspace up and spread out activities at whatever site it visits.

KCLC will move the makerspace between its sites, as well as use it for community events and site-specific learning. TMC Labs will also provide opportunities for local businesses and community members to share their resources and expertise with students working in the makerspace.

The “official launch” of TMC Labs will take place during KCLC’s Lights on Afterschool Event, which will be held on October 28th. In the meantime, the makerspace is awaiting exterior graphics and finishing touches. 

About the Maker Movement

The “Maker Movement” is energizing America’s educational landscape.  Based on the realization that some of the most important, creative STEM + A (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math + Arts) learning takes place outside of traditional classrooms, maker spaces are popping up in science and children’s museums, libraries and community centers.   As such, the maker movement is a much needed counterbalance to the increasingly standards-driven curriculum that drives traditional classroom instruction.

Sixpence announces Child Care Partnership grants

Sixpence Early Learning Fund - nebraska early childhood education

For the first time ever, the Sixpence Early Learning fund will fund collaborations between school districts and licensed child care providers. These new Child Care Partnership grants will give more of Nebraska’s most vulnerable babies and toddlers access to high-quality early learning experiences, which can help put them on par with their peers when starting kindergarten.

Why does this matter?

Nearly 30,000 infants and toddlers in Nebraska face risk factors that can increase their likelihood of entering school one to two developmental years behind their more advantaged peers. To help these kids keep pace in Nebraska’s classrooms, school districts have committed funding and personnel to early learning, but often with mixed results.


“Right now in Nebraska, only about 8 percent of our at-risk infants and toddlers have access to early learning opportunities we can verify as meeting the quality standards known to close the achievement gap,” said Amy Bornemeier, Associate Vice President of Early Childhood Programs at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and Administrator of the Sixpence Program.  “Schools can’t—and shouldn’t—carry the responsibility all by themselves.  By involving local child care providers in Sixpence partnerships, we’re making better use of the early childhood facilities, personnel and resources already available to us in our communities.”

Sixpence funding represents a commitment to very high-quality early learning. It’s this quality, studies show, that makes the difference for kids starting at a disadvantage. This new stream of funding will empower schools to partner with Child Care providers to offer full-day, year-round services to at-risk families with very young children. Participation in the new Sixpence grants will give local child care providers access to funding, training and expert consultation designed to help them meet the quality requirements expected of Sixpence programs.

Why is this happening?

The grants are the outcome of the passage of LB547 in the Nebraska Unicameral this past spring, which addressed technical restrictions that have prevented licensed child care providers from participating directly in Sixpence partnerships. The legislative effort to make this funding opportunity possible was led by Senator Kathy Campbell, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, and Senator Kate Sullivan, Chair of the Education Committee.

Increased quality standards


Bornemeier says that the new grants will also require child care providers to enroll in Nebraska’s rapidly growing Step Up to Quality rating and improvement system. Step Up to Quality, a collaboration between Nebraska’s Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services, provides training, opportunities for professional development and coaching for participating child care programs and staff. Step Up to Quality also uses rigorous assessments and quantifiable data to improve child care environments, educates parents on how to recognize quality child care settings in their communities and involves them more closely in their children’s early learning experiences.

“By working together, Sixpence and Step Up to Quality make our approach to the early education of our youngest, most vulnerable children more efficient, effective and accountable,” said Bornemeier. “This partnership enables us to maximize our existing resources, gives communities more flexibility to meet the needs of local families, and provides a pathway toward a more robust, professionalized early childhood workforce throughout the state. Most importantly, it reinforces the central role of parents in their children’s early education.”

Grant applications are due by Thursday, January 28, 2016.  View the RFP now on the Sixpence website

About the Sixpence Early Learning Fund

The Sixpence Early Learning Fund is a public-private partnership administered through the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. By investing in the early years, we ensure that children who are at risk in Nebraska have the best opportunity to succeed in school and throughout life. We do this by funding a range of services including home visitation (supporting parents in their role as a child’s first teacher) and center-based services that offer safe, responsive and stimulating environments.

RFP for Connected Youth Initiative grants of up to $150,000 released

Nebraska Children and Families Foundation today released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to communities wishing to apply for a Connected Youth Initiative sub-grant of up to $150,000.

“The purpose of these subgrants is to give communities the financial and technical resources they need to build a system to launch their unconnected youth into successful adulthoods,” said Jennifer Skala, Nebraska Children’s VP of Community Impact. “Each grantee community will work in partnership with Nebraska Children to conduct community planning and build a sustainable system that serves this high-need population.”

Nebraska Children will award between 7 and 10 community grants based on the RFP submissions. Each grant award will be between $100,000 and $150,000, and will require a dollar-for-dollar community match.

“For communities who are ready to make a difference for their unconnected youth, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Skala. “Not only will they get a powerful financial infusion, but we’ll be bringing a proven model that can be customized to the strengths of every community.”

Nebraska Children defines unconnected youth as age 14-24 who have had experience in the foster care or juvenile justice system, or who are homeless or nearly homeless.

“The unconnected young people served by older youth systems are faced with notoriously poor life outcomes,” said Skala. “Many of them will experience homelessness, develop chronic health problems, struggle with addiction, become parents too early or even become incarcerated as adults. These outcomes are not only negative for the young people experiencing them, but are extremely expensive for Nebraska taxpayers.”

Where is this money coming from?

Last week, Nebraska Children announced that it was recipient of a grant called the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) from the Corporation for National and Community Service. This is the first SIF grant awarded to Nebraska. Nebraska Children will use the funds to customize a successful model for addressing the needs of unconnected youth to rural communities who want to better serve this population. This model focuses on young people who have aged out of foster care, are experiencing homelessness, or have been in the juvenile justice system, and prepares them to become independent, contributing adults.

“Nebraska Children is one of three grantees the SIF is backing this year to address inequities in rural services,” said Damian Thorman, director of the Social Innovation Fund. “The SIF award will help drive resources needed to build effective systems of care in remote areas often overlooked by traditional philanthropy. We are proud to support rural Nebraska’s efforts to create supportive communities dedicated to helping struggling teens successfully transition to adulthood.”

Communities wishing to know more can access the RFP and instructions at

Beyond School Bells receives Ron Raikes Innovation for Opportunity Award

Jeff Cole pictured with Coleen Langdon of the Sidney afterschool program

Jeff Cole of Nebraska Children and the Beyond School Bells collaboration were recently selected as the first recipient of the Ron Raikes Innovation for Opportunity Award. The award was given at a statewide ARKSARBEN recognition event at the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney on Sunday, August 16.

Beyond School Bells is a network of city-wide Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) programs across Nebraska. This collaboration is housed at Nebraska Children, and believes that learning doesn’t end when the school day does.

The ELO programs work together to provide engaging, high-quality learning experiences in the before-school, after-school and summer hours.

The mission of Beyond School Bells is to improve access to and quality of ELOs by building partnerships, working toward smarter state and local policy, increasing conversations and engaging educators and parents.

In an earlier post on poverty and the achievement gap, Jeff Cole says that schools aren’t the problem, but that’s where most reform efforts focus. “I would argue that these reforms fail because they ignore the proverbial elephant in the classroom – time spent outside of class.”

By focusing on the waking hours that students are outside the class, Beyond School Bells programs are able to provide more active, hands-on learning opportunities and more in-depth experiences than the school day can offer. The result is better classroom behaviors, improved academic achievement and more engaged students.

This award was created in honor of the late State Senator Ron Raikes who served in the Nebraska Unicameral from 1998-2008 and as chairman of the Education Committee for a number of years. Senator Raikes was known for legislation that featured innovative use of Nebraska resources for creating educational opportunities for young people from birth through college. The Raikes Family created the award in Senator Raikes’ honor to recognize individuals or organizations making a difference in closing the opportunity gap between disadvantaged and more advantaged children or youth in Nebraska.

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