Court Improvement Project and Department of Health and Human Services – Joint Project Update

Court Improvement Project and Department of Health and Human Services – Joint Project Update

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nebraska Court Improvement Project hosted a forum regarding the DHHS-CIP collaborative project to improve reunification rates for children placed out of home. CIP and DHHS have worked together to identify barriers and positive methods to increase the rate of reunification within 12 months.

The data show approximately 36% of youth are reunified with a parent or returned home on a trial-home-visit within twelve months, and this does not meet the federal guideline of 43.8%.

To find out why, CIP conducted four focus groups at three locations (i.e. Lincoln, Lexington, and Norfolk). The focus groups consisted of: 1.) Judge, 2.) DHHS staff, 3.) attorneys, and 4.) FCRO, CASA, and educators. In addition to the focus groups, we conducted surveys of the parents (biological and foster) and youth.  The Capacity Building Center for the Courts analyzed focus group data and identified themes, which helped to pinpoint an intervention for the joint project.

Because of the data from the focus groups, CIP and DHHS identified pre-permanency hearing conferences, an intervention working partnering with the Office of Dispute Resolution and the Mediation Centers, to offer child welfare conferencing ahead of the 12 month mark, in the three pilot areas as the intervention. CIP and DHHS will monitor outcomes of children and youth, to determine if facilitated meetings increase collaboration and conversation resulting in increased reunification. In addition, the three pilot counties sent teams to Lincoln on June 19th to come up with local interventions with the support of CIP and DHHS administration. CIP will continue to work with the pilot counties to implement, monitor, and evaluate these interventions affecting reunification.

The forum included a welcome from Deb VanDyke-Ries, CIP Director, CIP and Children and Family Services Director, Matt Wallen, as well as presentations by Doug Beran, Deputy Director, NE DHHS Children and Family Services; Mary Ann Harvey, Project Specialist, CIP; Deborah Denny, Director, Office of Dispute Resolution; Jane Martin-Hoffman, Executive Director, Nebraska Mediation Center; Farah Greenwald, Director of Facilitation and Training, Nebraska Central Mediation Center; Stephanie Volkmer, Project Coordinator, CIP; and Hazel Delgado, Data Evaluator Research and Evaluation Specialist, CIP.

In the afternoon, participants from each of the three focus group locations gathered together to do some strategic planning for their teams. Afterwards, they reported out to the larger group their next steps and goals.

Photo: County Court Judge Ross Stoffer, Madison, discusses child reunification issues with program participant Alex Valente.