Trump Child Welfare Official Impressed with Nebraska’s Child Abuse Prevention Program

Nebraska child welfare officials meet with Jerry Milner, associate commissioner for the Children’s Bureau, far left. Photo courtesy of Nebraska DHHS.

The Bring Up Nebraska program drew a top Trump child welfare official to the Cornhusker State last week to learn more about its statewide plan to prevent child abuse and neglect. The initiative brings local community resources together to help at-risk families and children with challenges that could lead to a call to the child abuse hotline.

Jerry Milner, Trump’s associate commissioner for the Children’s Bureau, met with top officials from Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), as well as representatives from the Department of Education, the justice department and child advocacy groups from around the state to learn more about Bring Up Nebraska and other efforts the state is implementing to strengthen families.

“We’re very interested in the work that is going on here with Bring Up Nebraska,” Milner said in an email. “The concept behind Bring Up Nebraska is just so consistent with the direction we’re trying to move child welfare across the country, which is a real focus on preventing the occurrence of child abuse and neglect and helping to strengthen families before bad things happen. We’re excited about the information we’ve heard about Bring Up Nebraska and being here only confirms that this is the right place to visit.”

Matt Wallen, Nebraska’s director of the Division of Children and Family Services (CFS), said that he and colleagues shared stories about the program’s success.

“The Commissioner will then be sharing these stories as well as what he has learned of our prevention model with other states as the Children’s Bureau works to move the conversation around child welfare to more policies that highlight community-based prevention,” Wallen said.

Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner, right, met with representatives from various child welfare organizations, including Nebraska CFS Director Matt Wallen. Photo courtesy of Nebraska DHHS

Milner has been the primary official pushing the administration’s proposal that Congress approve a flexible block grant option for states that prefer such a structure to the Title IV-E foster care entitlement. Under IV-E, states can seek an unlimited amount of reimbursement through the entitlement, but only for costs related to the placement of children in foster care.

Earlier this year, Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act, which extends the scope of IV-E to include efforts to prevent the use of foster care in some abuse and neglect cases. But those services (which include drug treatment, mental health services and parenting assistance) are only available in cases where the child has been deemed to be at imminent risk of entering foster care.

The administration’s option would permit a state to instead receive a capped allocation that it could use for upstream prevention services aimed at helping families before abuse or neglect has occurred. Some state and county systems, including Los Angeles and Florida, have obtained IV-E waivers in the past 15 years to test the impact of flexible funding on child welfare outcomes.

Wallen suggested that the block grant option is one that Nebraska may consider if Congress approved it.

“Nebraska supports flexible funding and has prioritized prevention efforts to work with families before they enter the child welfare system,” said Wallen. “Nebraska is currently under a IV-E waiver and the waiver provides flexibility in funding that has benefited the state. Outside of the waiver, current IV-E funding is focused on foster care and the state very much wants to continue work to preserve and strengthen families in their home.”

Based on the visit to Nebraska, Milner has invited representatives from the state to present at a Children’s Bureau event in Washington, D.C., on April 30. The presentation will highlight the state’s community-based child abuse prevention work to prevent child maltreatment and strengthen the state’s families.

John Kelly contributed to this article.

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Kim Phagan-Hansel, Managing Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change
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