Omaha World Herald. June 23, 2015
Flexibility on child welfare is welcome
A year ago, the Legislature gave Nebraska's child welfare system the go-ahead to try some sensible flexibility when intervening in homes. It's encouraging now to see the positive reaction from families.
As reported by World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard, a number of families have expressed appreciation for how Nebraska child welfare workers have used an approach known as "alternative response."
Alternative response identifies situations where children are in crisis because of stresses due to poverty rather than as a result of serious physical abuse or other mistreatment.
Instead of removing the children from their homes, the state identifies the families' needs — transportation, food and shelter are often the priorities — and service organizations step forward to address the concerns.
This approach, used in 23 other states, generally is considered a proven tool for stabilizing family conditions and enabling a child to stay in the home.
"It's not adversarial. It's not us versus you. It's really about helping families," said Vicki Maca, deputy director for protection and safety within the state Department of Health and Human Services. "They are identifying their needs to us, and we're able to connect them with the resources they need."
Alternative response is used only in family situations where there is no threat of serious abuse of a child, based on a 21-point screening process. The new approach currently is used for 519 Nebraska families, which is around one-fourth of the nearly 2,300 families in the state's child welfare system.
The number of families utilizing the program matches the general estimate made by state HHS officials when they began the new approach last autumn.
In situations where serious abuse is a factor in a home, then the traditional investigative approach is taken, with the option of removing the child from the home in question.
Nebraska is currently using alternative response on a pilot basis in five counties — Dodge, Hall, Lancaster, Sarpy and Scotts Bluff — with general plans to expand next year to five additional counties if an evaluation by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is positive.
Nebraska is right to pursue this flexible approach.
It is a further positive sign that Nebraska is stepping away from the tumult that shook the child welfare system only a few years ago.
The Lincoln Journal Star. June 24, 2015
Looking forward to a bigger zoo
The Lincoln Children's Zoo and the city Parks and Recreation department have coexisted happily for decades in the so-called Antelope Park triangle.
Partners in successful longtime relationships recognize the necessity of making adjustments as time brings new demands.
In the case of these two partners, the zoo needs more space to grow.
The Journal Star editorial board is pleased that the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board voted earlier this month that it was willing to give up some of its land on the 26.5 acres in the triangle.
The zoo does an amazing job on its little 7.5-acre tract. Judicious use of landscaping and tree-shaded paths make the zoo — home to 300 animals, including some that are rare and endangered — seem larger than it actually is.
With nearly 200,000 visitors a year, it can be said the zoo is the top family attraction in the Capital City.
Under discussion is the possibility that the zoo would take another three acres of park land. The proposal would leave untouched some of the more notable park features, including the retired teachers Cascade Fountain, the Hamann Rose Garden and the Strolling Garden. It also would leave the Parks and Recreation administration building, although there's no compelling reason the administrative offices need to be located there.
The zoo expansion would use the Ager Center — built in 1936 as a Works Progress Administration project, now used as an indoor children's play area — internal green space on the triangle and a gravel parking lot.
John Chapo, president and CEO of the zoo, is quick to add that the project is years from completion.
Further studies will be conducted to determine more precisely how the zoo would expand. Chapo said the zoo wants to expand exhibits and provide a permanent site for the Zoo School, a "science focus" program that was one of the first created by Lincoln Public Schools. The Zoo School currently uses portable buildings.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board recommendation now goes to Mayor Chris Beutler. His assent seems likely, although Rick Hoppe, the mayor's chief of staff said a few "resolvable issues" remain to be addressed.
Approval from the mayor would give the zoo organization the assurance it needs to "move forward in dreaming and thinking," as Chapo put it.
"I just want to know that there's an ongoing partnership," said advisory board member Anne Pagel. Zoo officials have promised to continue communicating as plans evolve. Sounds like the relationship is still a strong and positive one, which is good for the community as a whole.
McCook Gazette. June 25, 2015
Has time arrived for more locally sourced table eggs?
We don't have a "The Egg and I" restaurant in our neighborhood, but if we did, we might know some nervous chefs.
We might, anyway, thanks to an egg shortage resulting from the avian flu.
Millions of chickens, especially laying hens, died or had to be killed because of the disease, which began showing up in commercial Midwest turkey and chicken farms.
While the spread of the disease has slowed, last week, a chicken farm in Iowa with a million egg-layers tested positive for the virus.
The USDA expected table egg production to drop 5.3 percent this year, to 6.9 billion dozen. By late May, the price of a dozen Midwest large eggs increased 120 percent from their mid-April, pre-bird flu prices of $2.62.
While "egg factories" are getting the attention because of the huge numbers involved, even smaller egg suppliers, and their customers, are feeling the pressure.
Matt Sehnert of Sehnert's Bakery said he would be keeping an eye on egg prices, but he was more concerned about the wheat crop. He said his bakery obtains hard red winter wheat flour from Wauneta Roller Mills, and fluctuations in the wheat market were of more concern than the price of eggs.
Bird flu has dealt a blow to large egg factories, as has California's new requirements that laying hens have more room to move around.
Local, farm-raised eggs are a popular item on radio call-in shows and at farmers' markets, but most of us head to the grocery story when it comes time to replenish our supply.
Regulations get in the way of most town-dwellers keeping a flock of laying hens, and city officials have warned that allowing "urban" flocks can attract predators.
But like fruits, vegetables and other foods, perhaps the time for more locally-sourced eggs has arrived.
The Grand Island Independent. June25,2015
Parents must monitor what kids are doing online
Dangers are lurking everywhere on the Internet, especially for children who aren't aware of them.
That's why parents need to be deeply involved with what their children are doing online. Parents can't just give their kids Internet access or a smartphone and walk away. Parents need to know every day what their children are doing on the web and phones, who they are communicating with and what messages they are sending to others.
If they don't, their children might be putting themselves in danger.
Independent reporter Jeff Bahr wrote an enlightening story in Monday's Independent. The headline got the message across: Parents should not be afraid to check children's Internet activities.
That was the point that law enforcement officials and mental health counselors kept stressing. Predators are out there, and on the web they can come from anywhere on the globe.
These predators are looking for children to exploit, searching for any opening they can find. That's why children should never communicate with strangers, even on the Internet.
Predators will pose as children, seeking a way into kids' lives, said Sgt. Eric Jones, coordinator of the Nebraska Crimes Against Children Internet Task Force operated by the Nebraska State Patrol.
"If you don't know him from church or school or they're friends or family or neighbors, then you really don't know them," Jones said.
Parents shouldn't be afraid of being accused of invading a child's privacy. When it comes to the Internet, parents must daily be monitoring with whom their children are communicating.
"Parents need to not be afraid to take the child's device, look at it, search it, search their social networking accounts, see and talk to them about what they're doing and who their friends are," Jones said.
Internet safety involves communication. Besides checking what their children are doing on the web, parents need to talk to them about what to watch for and the warning signs that someone is looking to take advantage of them.
Too much time on the Internet also can lead to isolation and fill young minds with the wrong kind of information. The accused Charleston, S.C., church shooter, Dylan Storm Roof, apparently spent a lot of time on white supremacist websites, soaking in the racial hatred and violent messages found there.
Certainly, there are plenty of websites containing educational information and news. The Internet can provide insights and take children visually to anywhere in the world. Parents just need to make sure it's not taking their children into dark places where predators and hatred loom.