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Nebraska Links Families in Need to Community Churches
Nebraska Ag Connection - 05/17/2018

Team members from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are using a software system called CarePortal to connect families with material needs to community churches that are both eager, and able, to help. CarePortal originated in Kansas City, Missouri three years ago as a technological platform of The Global Orphan Project and was launched by DHHS and the faith-based foster care and family services organization Compass in its first Nebraska city, Kearney, in July of 2017. In April of this year, DHHS worked with Compass to expand CarePortal to Hastings and North Platte. The launch events occurred in each city, respectively.

"We are excited to expand this platform in our great state," said Dr. Courtney Phillips, CEO of DHHS. "This collaboration with Compass, and the outpouring of community support means we are increasingly able to serve more families by connecting them not only to needed services, but also to the more tangible, physical resources they need to thrive."

According to Ryan Stanton, president and CEO of Compass, "Since we're [Compass] based in Kearney, and already had relationships with local churches, we thought it best to start there," Stanton said, adding that they hope to expand the service's reach to McCook and Grand Island later this year. Nebraska was the 13th state to implement the system, and Pennsylvania has now followed suit.

First Lady Susanne Shore is a staunch proponent of the CarePortal project. "CarePortal is a life-changing and innovative way to improve the lives of children and families by empowering churches and individuals to engage directly with the child welfare system. It's so encouraging to see so many great people and organizations in Hastings, Kearney, and North Platte work together to bridge communities and connect Nebraskans to help families stay together and thrive."

With the implementation of CarePortal, DHHS teammates, including economic assistance workers, intake and assessment workers, and child and family specialists, research and vet family needs to determine whether the requests qualify for assistance through the program. CarePortal divides requests into three tiers. Right now DHHS is limited to Tier 1 requests, which represent physical investments of cash, goods or services to stabilize the environment of the child and/or caregivers.

Kathleen Stolz, a DHHS service area administrator, oversees some of the professionals tasked with identifying and screening family needs. "The requests we submit through CarePortal are usually needs that cannot be met any other way. It's the avenue through which we connect families to concrete goods that ultimately go a long way towards reunification and preserving the family unit."

Once vetted, qualifying needs are input into the electronic system. An email outlining the family's needs, but free of identifying details about the family, is then sent to in-network churches who reach out to the community for volunteers who can assist. Only after a volunteer has been identified are any specifics about the family disclosed.

Church representatives, said Stanton, appreciate the fact that the needs have already been vetted by trained professionals. Moreover, because the requests come with case numbers, the requests and families are tracked and searchable.

"These are things that are sometimes best handled on a local level," Stanton said. "The churches love being able to really make a difference."

Thirteen churches have joined the network in Kearney, and approximately five churches each have agreed to join the networks in Hastings and North Platte. For more information about enrollment in the CarePortal network, interested churches may visit www.careportal.org, or contact Ryan Stanton at Ryan@COMPASSnebraska.org or 308-237-4085.

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