25 years of progress for Nebraska’s children

by Mary Jo Pankoke, Nebraska Children President and CEO

As we celebrate Nebraska Children’s 25th anniversary, it’s a great time to revisit the state plan that led to the creation of our organization. The Nebraska Family Preservation & Support Program Five-Year Plan was truly a statewide effort and unique among states in its vision for prevention.

The planning process began following passage of the federal Family Preservation and Support Act which provided funding to states to develop a five-year plan to improve the well-being of children through prevention services. A 40-member task force was created to take the lead on developing Nebraska’s plan. To get community input and buy-in, over 600 Nebraskans were involved in the planning process through 16 regional meetings, a statewide teleconference, and a two-day working conference. Citizens overwhelmingly supported prevention efforts: creating greater service accessibility; improving and creating flexible funding; creating and enhancing partnerships between families, communities, and state agencies; and building community-based networks to serve families.

The vision contained in Nebraska’s plan was Nebraska children and families live in safe, supportive environments providing opportunities for all to reach their full potential and participate as valued members of their community. The plan included the development of a not-for-profit statewide foundation that would serve as a public/private partnership and as a conduit for change with communities and state government. The mission of this foundation as outlined in the plan: The Foundation will work with communities that want to achieve better outcomes for children and families, by building better and more effective supports and services and by responding earlier, more comprehensively, and with greater flexibility to families’ needs. As these communities strive to improve outcomes for families, the Foundation will work with state agencies to identify barriers, to develop new funding patterns that allow community decision-making and to form other strategies so communities, rather than the state, can decide their needs.

Nebraska was unique among states in creating an external task force to lead the planning process. In most states, the planning was led by the State Department of Health and Human Services and the plans that were developed called for funding to be used to support programs rather than the systems change approach envisioned for Nebraska.

Nebraska’s plan was also unique in its call for the creation of a foundation to serve as a public/private partnership and lead implementation of the plan. In 1997, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation became a reality thanks to that visionary thinking. Other states are both envious and impressed by the foresight of Nebraska’s task force in creating both the infrastructure and the vision for improving the well-being of children and families.

I worked with the task force that developed Nebraska’s Family Preservation & Support Program Five-Year Plan, so revisiting the plan has been an inspiring trip down memory lane. As I reread the plan, I was struck by how forward-thinking the task force was in the mission identified for the foundation they envisioned and how Nebraska Children has remained true to that vision and mission.

As I reread the plan, I was struck by how forward-thinking the task force was in the mission identified for the foundation they envisioned and how Nebraska Children has remained true to that vision and mission.

– Mary Jo Pankoke

After 25 years, one of our measures of success is the 22 community collaboratives that provide prevention services in 83% of Nebraska counties and tribal communities. Nebraska Children supports these collaboratives through funding and technical assistance, but the collaboratives do the heavy lifting in their own communities because they are in the best position to know the strengths and potential solutions in their own backyards.

These collaboratives are also the backbone of a new statewide plan for community well-being. In partnership with Nebraska Children, many state agencies, private funders, and most importantly, parents and young adults with lived experience, the collaboratives have been instrumental in shaping the new plan with this vision: Nebraska will have the most robust Community Well-Being model in the nation by 2025.

While still being finalized, the new well-being plan includes the following goals:

  1. Improve authentic collaboration between lived experience partners, system partners, local school districts, and community collaboratives and community members.
  2. Increase community collaborative infrastructure that leads to equitable well-being outcomes.
  3. Improve services and supports that build Protective and Promotive Factors in children, youth, families, and communities, including:
    • Education, postsecondary education, and career services and supports for children, youth, families, and communities hosted both inside and outside of the traditional school day.
    • Supports and services for youth/young adults and young parents/families.
    • Access to and increased capacity of early childhood services in communities.
    • Access to and increased capacity of physical and behavioral health services in communities.
  4. Access to economic stability and concrete supports for children, youth, families, and communities.
  5. Strengthen the well-being workforce in Nebraska.

Thank you to the many board members, staff, and partners who have supported Nebraska Children’s prevention mission since 1997. Together we have made tremendous progress, but there is still much work to do to ensure well-being for all Nebraskans.

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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