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National Safe Haven Alliance Executive Director ignores the realities of Nebraska’s kids lives

This is the latest in a series of posts I have done criticizing Nebraska’s legalized child abandonment laws. You can find my earlier posts via my Nebraska tag.


Over time, I’ve seen a lot of what I consider delusional statements about child welfare and kids’ realities out of the National Safe Haven Alliance, but this one really takes the cake.

Yesterday, via a Moonie Times (Washington Times) article we get this little gem:

Ironically, not a single one of those children relinquished was an infant, said Tracey Johnson, executive director of the National Alliance of Safe Havens. Besides, she added, Nebraska has one of the best social service networks in the country that provides temporary foster care until parents and children “can get their heads back together.”

(emphasis added)

You have got to be kidding me.

Ms. Johnson is talking about a system currently under federal restrictions that came as a result of a federal inquiry!

Nebraska removes more kids per-capita from their families than any other state. They have the most kids living in state care. (As of October ’08.)

Nebraska has been hard at work trying to bring it’s current system up to even the most basic child welfare standards in order to avoid up to potentially more than $250 million in penalties.

When federal officials conducted the previous audit, Nebraska failed to meet minimum national standards for protections against a list of priorities including child abuse and neglect foster care, financial support and health care.

The federal inquiry came as part of a national drive to curb domestic violence and to try to reduce the number of homicides related to domestic violence.

In 2002, Nebraska was among the states with the highest per capita numbers of child fatalities.

Back in 2006, this is how the Columbus Telegram summarized the situation not long after the number of children in the state’s child welfare system reach an all time high (in April):

Hahn said the governor was simply telling HHS how to handle the issue, but there was no plan for resolution.

“There is no specific action, no funding commitment to make these things happen,” Hahn said. “He is providing neither the mechanism nor the funding to make (improvements).”

“The situation is so critical a lawsuit was filed against the governor and the state of Nebraska,” he said, referring to a pending federal lawsuit that alleges the state is endangering children with an “understaffed, underfunded and unresponsive” foster care system.

The class-action lawsuit was filed last year in U.S. District Court in Lincoln by New York-based Children’s Rights, the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest and several private law firms on behalf of the 6,000 children in the state’s foster care system. One of the children, identified only as “Paulette V.,” was placed in 17 different foster homes or facilities and was repeatedly physically and sexually abused during 12 years in foster care.

The lawsuit says many foster homes are overcrowded, often housing as many as six children at a time, and many children do not receive adequate medical care or mental health services.

In 2006, despite Governor Heineman’s hype, the numbers continued to tell a sad story.

Voices for Children in Nebraska gathered some key facts here that provide a sketch overview of out of home care in Nebraska based on the 2006 census report (the most recent):

  • 10,972 children in out-of-home care-Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, 2006
  • 55.1%of children in foster care have experienced four or more placements- Source: State Foster Care Review Board, 2006
  • 36%of children in foster care have had four or more different caseworkers- Source: State Foster Care Review Board, 2006

These are kids being bounced around, placement after placement, caseworker after caseworker.

By 2007, the Feds were arguing Nebraska had improved enough to avoid penalties, but the groups the brought the suit pointed out the ongoing problems, see Federal Government Approves Nebraska’s Improved Child Welfare System; Nebraska Appleseed Argues Still a Long Way to Go for:

Recently, the federal government found that Nebraska had improved its child welfare system enough to avoid federal penalties. In response, Gov. Dave Heineman claimed that Nebraska’s satisfaction of its federal Program Improvement Plan, was a “major milestone.” Unfortunately, these improvements still do not meet even minimal federal standards for a decent foster care system, and Nebraska’s Health and Human Services System recognizes that there is still far to go. – While even marginal improvements in this system can be deemed good news, to hail the federal approval as a major step or a signal that significant changes have been made in Nebraska’s child welfare system would be a mistake – and a costly one for foster children in Nebraska.

(emphasis added)

All of this set against a backdrop wherein Nebraska’s children aren’t doing so well:

  • According to Voices for Children’s annual Kids Count report for 2007 (by way of this Journal Star article)- 15 percent of Nebraska children were living in poverty and 36 percent were from families considered to be low income. And, between 2000 and 2005, the report stated, the poverty rate for Nebraska children rose 50 percent.
  • 45,000 Nebraska children (10.1 percent of the child population) did not have health insurance coverage in 2006 (according to this Voices for Children press release– link opens a PDF)
  • Also, from the same report (by way of the Journal Star article cited above) 71 percent of all black children living in Nebraska were from low-income families, which the report described as families earning 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less. In 2006, the federal poverty level was $20,000 for a family of four, so such a family could have an income of up to $40,000 and still be considered low income under the report’s guidelines. Of the state’s Hispanic children, 61 percent were from low-income families. For white children, it was 26 percent.
  • The same Journal Star article included this important figure-In 2006, 10,972 children were in out-of-home care at some point, an increase of 175 over 2005 and 611 over 2004.

The Child Welfare League of America has a page full of basic statistics on Nebraska here, NEBRASKA’S CHILDREN 2008. The child poverty numbers alone tell a sad tale.

As I quoted earlier:

“We’re trying to decide which hole to put a finger in, meanwhile the whole dike’s falling down around us,” said Topher Hansen, president of the Nebraska Behavioral Health Coalition.

Then you have Governor Heineman’s initiative to get the young and cute out of the system as quickly as possible, some via reunification with their families, some via adoption.

Heineman specifically instructed child welfare officials to “prioritize” the cases of kids 5 years old and younger coupled with “find permanent homes for children who have been out of their homes for at least 15 of the past 22 months.”

In other words, if they’re young and in the system, place ’em out whenever possible.

Again, from the Voices for Children out-of-home care and adoption page:

456 adoptions of state wards, up 79% from ‘05 (Source: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, 2006)

The older kids, of course are not “prioritized”. They are left to bounce around in the child welfare pinball machine until they age out.

But even in other adoptions, Nebraska is showing disregard for parental rights.

In this November 4th piece, In re Adoption of Rylee R. we see how issues of abandonment and Nebraska’s premature elimination of parental consent as the prelude to termination of parental rights and adoption clearly in at least this case has been far too hasty, running roughshod over the rights of parents, leading to a reversal in court, (link opens a PDF):

The finding of abandonment, and the resulting consent to adoption, was improper because the petitioners did not provide clear and convincing evidence to establish the father’s intent to rid himself of parenting obligations in the 6-month period prior to filing the petition.

The technical definition of “abandonment” by an adult under Nebraska state law appears to rely upon six months of essentially no contact before a child can then be declared legally abandoned.

In order for a court to eliminate the necessity of obtaining consent to adoption in Nebraska, a child must be classified “abandoned.”

(Note that in our blog posts we use “abandoned” as an act as seen through the eyes of the kids themselves, not the technical Nebraska legal definition. The dumped kids most certainly feel “abandoned” by their parents when left at state designated dump sites, whether such lines up with the legal definition or not. This being “child-centered” writing, we go by what they kids themselves experience.)

The push for moving kids out of the public system is in many ways ultimately a cost saving measure (all denials to the side) and an attempt to shift from a public model to a privatized/outsourced/subcontracted model of delivery of child welfare services.

To accomplish the change, state child welfare officials for the first time sought bids from private agencies.

They signed contracts worth a total of $32.7 million this year with five agencies. Each is to provide a full range of services for one or more regions of the state. Contractors were chosen on a mix of program quality and cost. Each will be required to report how well their programs help children and families.

The contracts replace those the state had with 116 agencies, each of which provided a more limited range of services in limited locations.

(Please read the full article to get the full context of the subcontracting measures.)

This Lincoln Journal Star article explains more about the contracts and gives the dollar amounts involved:

Agencies to provide servicesThese agencies have signed contracts to provide services in a specific region under the new system.

Southeast Service Area: OMNI Behavioral Health, $2,846,347; Cedars Youth Services, $3,580,925; and Visinet Inc., $2,730,983.

Western Service Area: Boys and Girls Home of Nebraska Inc., $5,096,562.

Central Service Area: Visinet, $1,899,229; and Boys and Girls Home of Nebraska, $2,488,125.

Northern Service Area: Boys and Girls Home of Nebraska, $7,674,062.

Eastern Service Area: Boys Town, $1,953,930; OMNI Behavioral Health, $3,931,574; and Child Saving Institute, $957,967.

The big ‘winner’ here is Boys and Girls Home and Family Services Inc. who have facilities across Nebraska, Iowa and even in Alaska.

Doing even a quick web search on such, we learn what kind of “parasitic organizers” are working on evangelizing kids in the Boys and Girls Home program.

Here for example you will find the Siouxland area Youth For Christ program aimed at the Boys and Girls Home kids.

Opportunity for New Program at Boys and Girls Home
Every Sunday YFC is at the Boys and Girls Home Community Center presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to approximately 60 young people. We call this “Sunday Live”. They call it church. In one hour we say hi to every young person that comes through the doors, sing praise and worship songs and take a look at God’s word. This is a vital ministry, but every significant story we have to tell about the young people we meet at the Boys and Girls Home takes place outside of this time. When we become involved in a young persons life, we see God’s hand move.

God has chosen to work through His people to reach people and that is through connection not performance. It is for this reason we covet your prayers asking God to build a unit mentor ministry in each unit at The Boys and Girls home. Each unit is comprised of 6-10 young people. We like to think of these new mentors as surrogate grandparents. The Boys and Girls Home has 20 such units.

We are asking God to use us as His servants in this project; that we might get to experience His grace in the lives of the 200 plus students. The doors are open.

This could refer to either the Boys and Girls Home and Family Services in South Sioux City, Nebraska or the first of the B&GH facilities based in Sioux City Iowa (the Iowa location is apparently the residential program), but it does give one a feel for the the kinds of “projects”/ministries Boys and Girls Home feel are appropriate in their residential settings.

According to this Daily News Miner article on the opening of the Alaska facility:

The home’s philosophy is modeled after Dr. Sandra Bloom’s “Sanctuary Model,” a theory that focuses more on trauma-based issues that provides structure but in a nurturing manner.

Suffice it to say, Bloom has some rather bizarre notions of what words such as “Trauma” “or “violence” mean:

Trauma is contagious. It spreads from person to person…


Thinking about violence as a contagious disease…

The so called “Sanctuary Model” is based upon components such as

Training in attachment theory for all administrators, staff, support staff

Attachment theory/disorder” or “Attachment therapy” is not an official term used in the DSM IV. It is at best a piece of ambiguous language or “unvalidated diagnosis”. From the theory article (see footnote [128] for citation):

Attachment disorder is an ambiguous term. It may be used to refer to reactive attachment disorder, the only ‘official’ clinical diagnosis, or the more problematical attachment styles (although none of these are clinical disorders), or within the alternative medicine field, the pseudoscience of attachment therapy as a form of unvalidated diagnosis.

Also see this Wikipedia page for:

The definition of Attachment Therapy is disputed and there is no generally recognized definition. For example, it is not a term found in the American Medical Association’s Physician’s Current Procedural Manual, 2006. It is also not found in Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, fifth edition, edited by Michal J. Lambert, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2004.

Quack “therapies” based on the notion of “attachment disorder” have a body count. Be sure to see this brief wikipedia entry on Candace Newmaker and Colorado’s and North Carolina’s “Candace’s law” enacted in her memory.

Other sub-contractors include (“faith-based”) Boys Town and (“faith based”) Child Saving Institute (a partner agency to Project Harmony, the intake path for many of the “safe haven” kids.

I profiled CSI and Project Harmony all the way back at the beginning of the Nebraska “safe haven” dumps.

As I quoted Nebraska State Senator Nantkes during the “safe haven” discussions:

“How many task forces do we need? How many class action lawsuits do we need? How many Department of Justice investigations do we need?”

If the Nebraska child welfare ongoing quagmire, barely staying one step ahead of federal penalties, is what Ms. Johnson and perhaps the National Safe Haven Alliance thinks passes for “one of the best social service networks in the country” they either haven’t done their homework, or are clinically insane.

Then again, if the whole point is to fast track those under 5 out into adoptions, should we be the least bit surprised when the National Alliance of Safe Havens, an outgrowth of the National Council for Adoption loves it and thinks everything’s just ducky?

6 Responses to “National Safe Haven Alliance Executive Director ignores the realities of Nebraska’s kids lives”

  1. Baby Love Child Says:

    In the course of getting all the details into this piece I left off the outcome of the class action suit.

    Please see this page for Nebraska Appleseed’s take on the tail end of the suit.

    Unfortunately, in January 2007, Judge Richard Kopf chose to not to hear the claims of these young Plaintiffs and dismissed the case.

    Which is to say that rather than examining the details of what the kids were undergoing and the issues involved, the case was dismissed.

  2. Wayward Radish Says:

    Excellent post, outstanding blog. Thanks muchly for it.

    I’m an adoptee, just reached adulthood. As a child I underwent countless sessions of the same “attachment therapy” that murdered Candace Newmaker.

    The fact that there’s any connection between this “sanctuary model” and AT is disturbing, to say the least. I have to wonder if there are any financial kickbacks for those involved in the drafting of this legislation, given the exorbitant cost of AT and its associated techniques…

    I’ve linked back to this entry in my latest post, and will do so again when I blog about this pitiable “Safe Haven” law. Thanks again.

  3. Baby Love Child Says:


    I’ve often compared quack attachment therapies for Bastards to quack “ex-gay” junk therapies for Queers. Doubly so when both are utilized on minors against their will.

    It’s important hear from those who have endured such directly, themselves.

  4. Wayward Radish Says:

    You’re most welcome.

    The two are actually more related than most people think, check THIS out:

    Martha Welch is one of the “founding mothers” of Attachment Therapy. She started preying on autistics (still does to an extent), moved on to adoptees, and now her work has directly inspired the “gay-to-straight” movement leader Richard Cohen:

    “I recommend the use of Attachment/Holding Therapy as taught by Dr. Martha Welch. My family and I did some healing work with Dr. Welch. If I had experienced holding time with my parents several decades ago, I would not have needed to process through my thoughts and feelings with so many therapists and groups.”

    These following posts outline AT’s targeted demographics–note how they’re all disenfranchised groups (the orphaned, the autistic and the homosexual) by society at large:

    An Argument for Neurodiversity
    The Road to Hell

  5. Baby Love Child Says:

    THANKS Wayward Radish!

    Interesting to see the documentation you just provided. Particularly much of the quack “attachment” anti-Queer interweaves.

    (This also comes out in the adoption industry when agencies etc decide Queer couples must never be given kids, particularly when it’s a male couple, based on their “attachment” insistence that kids growing up without a mother to attach to, -even if an adopted one- will naturally grow up to be psychopaths.)

    I find the interplay betwixt the overlapping “communities” not the least bit surprising as the “TEENS IN CRISIS” industry is only so big, and makes a point of picking up tips from other corners of the same.

    I’d come at this from a very different angle than you, but arrived at many of the same conclusions.

    After attending the National Council for Adoption’s (the pro-sealed records adoption industry trade lobby out of Alexandria, VA) annual conference several years back and watching their wholehearted embrace of Karyn Purvis, I decided it was time to take a closer look at the “Attachment” quackery, particularly at it was being related to adoption and adoptees.

    You can see both Marley’s mention of Purvis’s luncheon keynote at the NCFA conference and my lengthy comment about her and the event here- RETURNING TO THE HEART OF DARKNESS: NCFA CONFERENCE. Such was the first real writing I had done about the interweave between NCFA and the “Attachment” industry.

    Marley and I had both watched the Candace Newmaker saga unfold (and the aftermath, with Watkins being Paroled this past Jnne after serving a mere 7 years) and had discussed the ramifications of this junk psuedo-science being marketed towards adopters quite a bit.

    Understanding how much a part of NCFA’s core doctrine this shit was, and how it was also being marketed down to adoption agencies, and then on to adoptive couples from before the adoption process even begins was sickening.

    Not long after the conference I picked up a used copy of Welch’s “Holding Time.”

    Truely horifying. Words cannot describe my revulsion. It’s a manual for disaster. Any notion of a kid having consent, and the ability to refuse is to be systematically excised from them- lest *BAD SCARY THINGS* happen.

    Put simply, a book of what not to do.

    Doubly so in relation to understanding how practical applications of this and other “attachment” bullshit yes, have led to dead kids.

    You’re dead on (so to speak) when you speak to how it is about targeting those often least politically empowered, historical disadvantaged, and societally marginalized.

    Such is also aimed directly at the parental insecurities of the parents of minors of such demographics.

    In adoption, you are of course also dealing with perspective adoptive couples many of whom have been on their own journeys of fertility desperation for years running through IVF, adoptions that have fallen through in the past, miscarriages, etc.

    When the kids they get a hold of don’t match their every expectations, attachment snake oil salesmen promising “fixed kids” find an already opened door and previous history of spending money on getting the child they want.

  6. Ms MadMtn Mama Says:

    Hello I love your website and thank you for caring. My son is 6yr now; he is PTSD-RR and his IEP clearly states “reacts strongly to touch” and the socalled professionals (teachers) refuse to keep their hands off him and dare complain when he withdrawls or becomes angry. This scared cautious boy does not need or want a big hug from any of you (idiots). His (lack of) attachment is appropriate for HIS experience. He is able to choose to come lean upon me occasionally and briefly because I do NOT reach my arms around him in a trapping manner. Please continue your wonderful advocacy for the other children forced to receive “holding” against their will.

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