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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and first lady Susanne Shore touted the benefits Monday of local services to keep children out of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Ricketts said the state relies on local groups to connect families to the services they need and prevent children from going into state custody. Child advocates and others gathered at the Capitol to recognize the ongoing efforts.

“The idea here is really to try to get to families earlier with services,” Ricketts said.

Shore said she wants Nebraska’s emphasis on local services to become a model for the nation.

“Any child in need has to be seen as one of our own, not as the state’s responsibility but or Washington’s concern but one of our own kids,” she said.

Nebraska had roughly 5,000 children in out-of-home care as of March 31. Local service providers try to minimize the number of children taken from their families by offering help to families ranging from financial-planning advice to counseling.

Jennifer Skala, a senior vice president at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, said the groups are trying to draw attention to the need for prevention through an initiative dubbed “Bring Up Nebraska.” Many such groups rely on a combination of private funding and public grants.

The programs were a big help to Ashley Ulmer Schmit, a former nurse and single mother of five who lives in Lincoln. Schmit said one of her young sons was recently diagnosed with autism after a nurse provided by a local organization confirmed her suspicions that something was amiss. Schmit said local services also helped her manage her finances.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Susanne Shore’s first name.