UNL wins $8.7 million grant for regional child welfare assistance center

Released on 11/03/2008, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., November 3rd, 2008 —

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has received a five-year, $8.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children's Bureau to establish the Midwest Child Welfare Technical Assistance Implementation Center.

The new center aims to improve the quality and effectiveness of child welfare services in Nebraska and nine other states. The center will partner with state agencies, tribes and other child service providers to help them identify obstacles to helping families, to build the capacity of state and tribal child welfare systems and to work toward significant changes to improve outcomes for children and families involved with these system. The ultimate goal is to ensure all children have safe, stable and permanent homes.

"There are families falling through the cracks. Do we have the right kinds of services and, if so, are families finding out about them?" said Michelle Graef, project co-leader and research associate professor in UNL's Center on Children, Families and the Law (http://ccfl.unl.edu), which will administer the project. This center was established in 1987 to conduct interdisciplinary research and provide policy analysis, education and community service to public and private organizations to enhance the well-being of children, youth and families.

The Midwest implementation center will provide long-term consultation and support to child service agencies and tribes in Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. It will partner with state and tribal child welfare agencies to assess their inner workings and identify broad changes that could help them operate more efficiently and effectively to serve families and children. For example, Graef said, the center may look at how an agency recruits and retains employees, how well it coordinates with law enforcement and the court system, or how quickly it connects families with medical help or mental health services.

"It has the promise to bring about systemic change, and it's really exciting to be a part of that," said Mark Ells, project leader and research assistant professor in the Center on Children, Families and the Law.

UNL is one of five sites selected as regional implementation centers, which are collaborative agreements between the USDHHS Children's Bureau, behavioral and social science research programs, state agencies and federally recognized tribes. The implementation centers were established this year to better coordinate the resources and expertise currently provided by the children's bureau training and technical assistance network. They also will foster peer relationships between state and tribal agencies and help them establish formal partnerships to execute projects to improve services. If successful, Ells said, this could become a new model for delivering human services.

"There has never been a focal point to bring the pieces together," Ells said. "All the expertise is out there, but it's housed in separate agencies."

The UNL-based Midwest center will strongly emphasize tailoring improvement projects to the agencies' individual needs and respecting cultural values. UNL sociology professor Les Whitbeck, whose research specialty is Native American children and families, will serve as a consultant.

"We'll know our work has been successful if families receive the services they need and foster children safely get to permanent homes more quickly," Ells said.

"This grant will enable our faculty in the Center on Children, Families and the Law to use their experience and expertise to improve the lives for children and families across Nebraska and our region through both research and outreach," said UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman. Prem Paul, vice chancellor for research and economic development, agreed. "This is a highly collaborative, multidisciplinary project that plays off the strengths of our center."

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