Child Welfare

Why does it matter?

Keeping our children and youth safe is essential to their healthy development. Strengthening families so we prevent child abuse and neglect and acting quickly but thoughtfully to guarantee children have a safe, permanent, and loving home are key to ensuring every child can grow into a successful, independent adult.

55% of children living in out-of-home care were living with relatives or kin.*

447 families were served by Alternative Response.

*Point in Time 12/31/2016
Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

 Child maltreatment

Federal law defines child maltreatment, otherwise known as abuse and neglect, as “any act or failure to act that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or any act or failure to act that represents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

In Nebraska, the vast majority (85%) of maltreatment is physical neglect, which is a failure to meet a child’s basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing; this is, in many cases, an economic issue.

Why should we be concerned?

Exposure to childhood abuse and neglect hinders children’s healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development. If untreated, toxic stress makes it more likely that children will adopt risky behaviors which negatively impact their future health and success.

Given the impacts, we need to strengthen families to prevent abuse and neglect whenever possible, and take swift, thoughtful action to ensure that all children grow up in loving homes.

Child abuse & neglect reports

33,977 reports

of alleged maltreatment were made to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline in 2016.

Do you know a child who is being maltreated?

Call the Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline at 1-800-652-1999.

Safety Assessments

Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Types of substantiated maltreatment (2016)

Some children experienced more than one type of maltreatment. The numbers here will be higher than the total number of children who experienced maltreatment.

Child maltreatment by age (2016)

  • Infant (0-1) 811 (21.8%)
  • Toddler (2-4) 740 (19.9%)
  • School-age (5-12) 1,551 (41.6%)
  • Teen (13-18) 623 (16.7%)

It is important to note that only maltreatment cases that were reported are included in this report. The actual incidence of maltreatment may be higher than what is reported here.

3,725 kids experienced maltreatment in 2016.

Number of child maltreatment victims per 1,000 children (2007-2016)

Source: Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).; U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 1-year estimates, Table S0901.

In 2016, 5,720 children in 93 counties who were alleged victims of maltreatment were served by the Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) of Nebraska.

CACs offer an innovative way of serving children who are victims of abuse through comprehensive strategies coordinating investigation and intervention services to create a child focused approach. Services include forensic interviewing, medical evaluations, advocacy and support, therapeutic intervention, case review, and tracking. The CACs ultimate goal is to ensure that children are not revictimized by the very system designed to protect them.

Child Advocacy Centers conducted:

4,457 Forensic Interviews

1,146 Medical Exams

14,812 Advocacy Sessions

12,812 Case Reviews

Source: Nebraska Alliance of Child Advocacy Centers, 2016 Annual Statistics.


How do children enter our child welfare system? (2011-2016)

  • Court, out-of-home
  • Non-court, in-home
  • Court, in-home
  • Non-court, out-of-home

Court vs. non-court

Children who are removed from their homes often experience traumatic and long-term consequences. Recently, DHHS has been seeking ways to keep families together while ensuring that safety can be maintained. This has been reflected in data from recent years in how families enter the system, with more and more families receiving services without judicial oversight (“non-court”) when appropriate. Non-court cases allow children to remain in their own homes, where they can continue to receive a stable source of love and care from their families.

Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

5,485 kids entered the child welfare system in 2016.

2,737 (50%) were non-court involved

2,748 (50%) were court involved

Non-court entries by age (2016)

  • Infant (0-1) 429 (15.6%)
  • Toddler (2-4) 525 (19.1%)
  • School Age (5-12) 1,252 (45.6%)
  • Teen (13-18) 531 (19.3%)

Court entries by age (2016)

  • Infant (0-1) 548 (19.9%)
  • Toddler (2-4) 432 (15.7%)
  • School-age (5-12) 970 (35.3%)
  • Teen (13-18) 798 (29.0%)

 Involvement in Child Welfare

10,135 kids were involved in the child welfare system at some point in 2016.

7,214 (71.2%) from 4,020 families were court involved.

2,921 (28.8%) from 1,168 families were non court involved.

Any involvement by age (2016)

  • Infant (0-1) 1,452 (14.3%)
  • Toddler (2-4) 1,844 (18.2%)
  • School Age (5-12) 4,086 (40.3%)
  • Teen (13-18) 2,753 (27.2%)

Court involvement by age (2016)

  • Infant (0-1) 1,039 (14.4%)
  • Toddler (2-4) 1,316 (18.2%)
  • School Age (5-12) 2,739 (38.0%)
  • Teen (13-18) 2,120 (29.4%)

Non-court involvement by age (2016)

  • Infant (0-1) 413 (14.1%)
  • Toddler (2-4) 528 (18.1%)
  • School Age (5-12) 1,347 (46.1%)
  • Teen (13-18) 633 (21.7%)

Number of state wards over time (2007-2016)*

*Point in Time 12/31 of each year
Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Alternative Response 

The Alternative Response (AR) pilot project was authorized by the Nebraska Legislature in 2014 after the state received federal approval to conduct the project as a part of a Title IV-E Demonstration Waiver. Historically, Nebraska only had one option for responding to allegations of child abuse and neglect—an investigation. The majority of children who come into Nebraska’s child welfare system are identified because their family is unable to meet their basic needs, which is often related to symptoms of poverty. The pilot brought more flexibility to our state response to child maltreatment in certain low- or moderate-risk cases by allowing caseworkers to focus on harnessing the strengths of each family and building parental capacity through intensive supports and services. The pilot was implemented in staggered stages beginning in October 2014 and will be available statewide by July 2017, pending reauthorization by the Legislature.

447 families were served by Alternative Response in 2016.

Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Race & ethnicity in child welfare

In-home and out-of-home placement




Removal reasons of children in out-of-home care
Neglect (alleged/reported) 1,806 Sexual Abuse (alleged/reported) 115
Drug Abuse (Parent/Caretaker) 1,544 Mental and Emotional Abuse 56
Domestic Violence 498 Mentally ill and dangerous (child) 44
Physical Abuse (alleged/reported) 473 Death of Parent(s)/Caretaker(s) 38
Inadequate Housing 314 Relinquishment 9
Child’s Behavior Problem 282 Alcohol Abuse (child) 27
Abandonment 273 Diagnosed Child’s Disability 24
Incarceration of Parent(s)/Caretaker(s) 209 Drug Abuse (child) 11
Parent’s/Caretaker’s inability to cope due to illness/other 193 Court Determined that reasonable efforts are not required 29
Alcohol Abuse (Parent/Caretaker) 182 Total 6,127
A child may have more than one reason for removal from their home.
Sources: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates, July 1, 2016.

State wards (court involved) receiving in-home services by age (2016)

  • Infant (0-1) 767 (13.9%)
  • Toddler (2-4) 1,067 19.4%)
  • School-age (5-12) 2,511 (45.6%)
  • Teen (13-18) 1,164 (21.1%)

State wards (court-involved) receiving out-of-home services by age (2016)

  • Infant (0-1) 930 (15.3%)
  • Toddler (2-4) 1,093 (18.0%)
  • School-age (5-12) 2,203 (36.2%)
  • Teen (13-18) 1,862 (30.6%)

3,269 (53.7%) of children who were state wards living in out-of-home care had a diagnosed disability.

Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Out-of-Home Placements 

Where are the kids in out-of-home care?*

Group home (134 children)

Living independently (31 children)

Runaway (34 children)

Foster & adoptive homes (1,150 children)

Medical facility (75 children)

Kinship care (503 children)

Relative home (1,416 children)

Detention facility (141 children)

Emergency shelter (6 children)

Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
*Point-in-time data taken on December 31, 2016.

Foster home placement beds (CY 2016)

8,448 licensed foster home beds were available in 4,151 homes.

3,983 approved relative or kinship beds in 2,329 homes.

3,931 (62.7%) children in foster care in 2016 were placed with relatives or kin.

51.9% of foster home beds were in kin or relative homes.

2,457 kids in out-of-home care also had a sibling in out-of-home care on 12/31/16.

63% were placed with all siblings.

82% were placed with at least one sibling.

When children must be removed from their homes, it is important to ensure that their placement reduces the trauma of removal and promotes the well-being of the child. Congregate care, which places children in an institutional setting such as a group home or detention center, should be used minimally for out-of-home placements.

Research shows that placement in a familylike setting provides children with improved long-term outcomes in physical and emotional health. Although congregate care may be necessary for some children, for many others, it does not allow children to maintain the strong relationships with trusted adults that are essential for successful development.

 Placement Stability

Multiple placements

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services counts placement changes when a child moves from one foster care setting to another. Children in stable homes are reported to receive more attention, acceptance, affection, and better care from their foster parents. Children who are in stabilized homes are more likely to receive therapy, are less delinquent and oppositional/aggressive, and are more likely to be placed with competent and caring foster parents.

Source: University of Illinois, Child and Family Research Center, Placement Stability Study, 1999.

Average number of out-of-home placements by age (CY 20165)

  • Average number of placements

Average number of out-of-home placements by race/ethnicity (CY 2016)

  • Average number of placements

Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).


Exiting the system

Once in the child welfare system, children should be on a track toward achieving permanency in a safe, loving environment. Most of the time that means they will be reunified with their family and return home. Other times, permanency may be achieved through adoption or guardianship.

2,9950 court involved children exited the system in 2016.

2,259 non-court involved children exited the system in 2016.

Exits from out-of-home care (2007-2016)

  • Reunification
  • Adoption
  • Guardianship
  • Independent Living
  • Other*
*2013 and 2014 data variances are due to the transfer of youth from DCFS to Probation due to juvenile justice reform legislation.

Exits from out-of-home care (2016)

  • Reunification
  • Adoption
  • Independent Living
  • Guardianship
  • Other Reason
Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

221 children exited into guardianships in 2016,
207 of which were subsidized.

503 children were adopted in 2016.
484 adoptions were subsidized.

Mean time from becoming free for adoption to adoption: 13 months.

 Aging Out

137 youth were in out-of-home care when they reached their 19th birthday in 2016.

88% were HHS wards

7% were OJS wards

5% were both

318 emerging adults were served through the Bridge to Independence Program in 2016. 95 emerging adults left the program during this time.

Family support is key to any successful transition into adulthood, especially for youth who may have been exposed to trauma. Learning to be self-reliant in seeking employment and housing, managing finances, or seeking healthcare can be daunting without family connections. For youth who have been in foster care who do not exit the system to a family, ensuring a strong system of support in this transition is key. To address this issue, the Unicameral passed LB 216 in 2013, which extended supports and services until the age of 21 for youth who have “aged out.” The Bridge to Independence (b2i) program began serving youth in October 2014. Participants must be either working, seeking work, or in school. In return, they receive Medicaid coverage, a monthly stipend to use for living expenses, and an assigned caseworker on call 24/7 to help them navigate the transition to adulthood.

Bridge to Independence Program (2016)

  • 318 young adults participated
  • 174 young adults entered
  • 95 young adults left
    • 60 were no longer eligible due to age
    • 33 left due to lack of cooperation with the voluntary program
    • 2 chose to leave the voluntary program
Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Reasons for participation in Bridge to Independence (CY 2016)*

*A young adult may have more than one reason for Bridge to Independence participation.