By Sarah Helvey, J.D., M.S., Child Welfare Program Director, Nebraska Appleseed

Earlier this month, Nebraska joined the growing list of more than a dozen other states in creating a program of extended services and support to age 21 for young people transitioning from foster care to adulthood – an opportunity provided under the federal Fostering Connections Act. LB 216, introduced by Lincoln Senator Amanda McGill, was passed by the Nebraska Legislature on a vote of 44-2 and was signed into law by Governor Dave Heineman on June 4, 2013.

The passage of LB 216 was the culmination of more than two years of efforts by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including, most importantly, young people with foster care experience. These incredible young people (check out Project Everlast) passionately and effectively advocated for this program, including providing input on bill language, speaking at press conferences, testifying at hearings, delivering fact sheets and postcards to legislative offices, and sharing their experience and perspectives directly with senators.

Nebraska’s older youth stakeholder advocacy efforts also included:

  • A fiscal analysis based on program design recommendations developed by the stakeholder group convened by the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. The fiscal analysis was conducted by Mainspring Consulting through the support of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.
  • A 2011 legislative interim study (LR 305) that involved a youth panel and listening session for senators and legislative staff
  • A 2012 legislative interim study (LR 537) that involved extensive data collection including surveys and focus groups with more than 100 young people in eight locations across the state and surveys from more than 250 system stakeholders. This resulted in the release of a report, “Bridging the Gap: Supporting Youth in Transition from Foster Care to Adulthood.”
  • Other communications and media work, including a Project Everlast member’s op-ed in the Omaha World-Herald and another feature story in the Lincoln Journal Star, and this video with Gary Stangler from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.

In Nebraska, it takes 25 votes to pass a bill. (That is a majority of the 49 senators in our Unicameral.) But many times getting to those 25 yeas and beyond takes not only dedicated legislative leadership (thank you, Sen. McGill and HHS Committee Chair Sen. Kathy Campbell!) but also a coordinated effort of education, awareness, program and fiscal data, national expertise and personal experience. More than once, it also required reaching out to national contacts and professionals in other states for technical assistance and advice.

Sometimes, it takes a village to pass a bill and that was certainly the case with LB 216. While it may sound and was at times daunting, the involvement and planning of so many people and organizations in Nebraska will now prepare us as we move forward with the critically important and equally daunting task of implementing this program so it is all that it can be for young people making the transition from foster care to adulthood.

Click here to see a Prezi on the advocacy story of LB 216.

Sarah Helvey is the Child Welfare Program Director at Nebraska Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that fights for justice and opportunity for all Nebraskans.