Federal grant funds empower Nebraska to create a System of Care

By Betty Medinger, LCSW, Vice President of System Integration

The US Department of Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded a “System of Care” planning grant to Nebraska. The state effort will be led by Nebraska DHHS divisions of Behavioral Health and Children and Family Services, with much planning help coming from the team here at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.

Wow. That’s a lot of acronyms and multi-word agency names. What does it all mean?

Quite simply, Nebraska has received federal dollars to funnel our disparate child welfare, substance abuse, and mental health programs to one purpose – helping children and families become healthier, while staying out of the welfare system.

Why do we need a system of care?

We say it all the time. Nebraska is a great place to raise children. Nebraska is the good life! In Nebraska, neighbors help their neighbors. And all of these statements are true.

Unfortunately, there are some other truths about our state that need to be addressed:

  • 68,000 of our kids are have major issues because of mental health or substance abuse problems. In 2008 the legislative Behavioral Health Task Force estimated that among Nebraska children and adolescents with a mental health or substance abuse disorder, approximately 47,000 experience significant impairment and approximately 21,000 children and adolescents experience extreme impairment each year.
  • The state only has 1,100 slots for comprehensive wraparound service coordination. The needs of these children far outstrip available resources in the current system.
  • Of Nebraska’s 93 counties, 86 are designated as mental health professional shortage areas.
  • Nebraska is removing children from their homes at rates twice the national rate. Child welfare experts cite several reasons for the high rate of child protective services in Nebraska. Advocates say the state has historically spent far more money on children after their removal from their homes than on prevention and family preservation, and, historically in Nebraska, removing a child from home has too often been the avenue to provide the child/family with needed services. Nebraska also serves a large population of juvenile offenders and status offenders under the umbrella of its child welfare division.

How will a system of care make a difference?

In many ways. A system of care will allow agencies and program to function as a coordinated, collaborative entity, wrapping around the kids who need it to provide them the services they need without having to enter the welfare system. Imagine this:

  • Nebraska’s youth, families, agencies and child-serving providers come together to rearrange, refresh, and retool how families and children access help when they need it.
  • The response of service providers to community members, family, friends, and neighbors was individualized to address current needs, and respectful of the variety of cultural and linguistic diversity within our state.
  • Service providers really understood the impact of early childhood trauma on developing brains, had knowledge and access to tools that have been proven effective in the developing fields of health, behavioral health, juvenile justice, child welfare, social services, and education.
  • We always approached the child and family as the expert on their own experience and at the center of any plan that involved addressing the challenges being encountered.
  • We focused our resources on developing our children, families, schools, neighborhoods, and communities by building on strengths, appreciating the contributions of all, and addressing our challenges collectively.

That’s what the System of Care grant will help us do in Nebraska. And everyone involved is energized by the possibilities this means for the children and families of our state.

What’s next?

The planning process is beginning with a kickoff meeting Oct. 29, 2013 in Lincoln. The months after that will include many opportunities to provide input through planning teams, core strategy teams, surveys, focus groups, community teams, and more. We’re in the process of developing a web page to keep you update on events and new developments, so keep an eye out for new information.

If you have any questions about the SOC grant, feel free to contact me.


Nebraska Children's mission is to maximize the potential of Nebraska’s children, youth, and families through collaboration and community-centered impact.

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Posted in Cradle to career

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