State and Local Family and Children’s Advocates Connect


Sometimes a personal story can sway a senator or policy-maker, but sometimes it takes hard numbers, and a statewide group with access to both is in central Nebraska forging more local connections.

Voices for Children in Nebraska executive director Carolyn Rooker was in Grand Island on Wednesday sharing their “Kids Count” 2013 report with the Hall County Collaborative.

Voices is a non-profit advocacy center that works in the Legislature and other Nebraska arenas on policy involving children’s health, education, safety and economic stability. The Hall County Collaborative is made up of dozens of area agencies - from CASA to DHHS to Saint Francis to the United Way - who are working together to close gaps in programming and provide help to families who need it.

Yolanda Chavez Nuncio, one of the Voices for Children board members based in Grand Island, says the statistics on poverty, diversity and population are something they can all use.

“I think that’s really good for us as a community because that’s a resource that some of us may not have known about, and with the connections and the work that they do, it could be very valuable to us,” says Nuncio.

Rooker says it’s a two-way street. She says Voices wants to find out what challenges and opportunities these agencies face every day.

“Often we describe it like 'are you helping keep children safe from their families, or are you helping families keep their children safe?' And that’s what we really want to get to, we want to keep families together if at all possible in a supportive way,” she says.

Rooker says child welfare and juvenile justice help is shifting out of the courtroom and into home and community-based programs, but it’s work that’s easier legislated than done.

“It’s much harder in rural communities where there may not be as many services or the distance in between may be somewhat problematic - 50 to 70 miles to get to a particular service,” she says.

One example of work being done is a Department of Health and Human Services “Alternative Response” pilot program. Rooker says Grand Island is one of five places where the program that provides family assistance - financial, behavioral and more - is being used, and Voices is watching it closely to see if their success and ideas can be used by other communities too.

“It just gives the Department of Health and Human Services an option for families where they can provide supportive services for them and not have to push them into the court system,” she says.

Leaders say Voices is already a data and numbers resource for many, and as they get more community input, they plan to be a solution-sharer as well.

“I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true: it takes a village,” says Anne Buettner, a Grand Island family therapist and Voices board member. “I mean only when we are combined are we stronger, much stronger. Start with one voice, but a collection of voices is the best.”