Bill would increase child advocacy center funding

Nebraska’s child advocacy centers would receive an increase in state funding under a bill heard Feb. 11 by the Appropriations Committee.

<a href='' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. John Stinner'>Sen. John Stinner</a>
Sen. John Stinner

LB779, sponsored by Gering Sen. John Stinner, would appropriate $3.42 million to the state Department of Health and Human Services in fiscal year 2020-21 to support child advocacy centers. The bill also states the intent of the Legislature to continue the new funding level in future fiscal years.

Stinner said the bill would be an increase of $1.15 million over the amount currently budgeted for the centers, which provide coordinated efforts to investigate child abuse and assistance in prosecuting offenders. The number of cases that the centers respond to has nearly doubled since 2015, he said, without a corresponding increase in state funding.

“These centers provide forensic interviews, medical evaluations, trauma-focused mental health care and victim advocacy for victims of child abuse and child sexual exploitation,” Stinner said.

Ivy Svoboda, executive director of the Nebraska Alliance of Child Advocacy Centers, testified in support of LB779. The centers, which serve all 93 Nebraska counties, have tried hard to secure federal grants, donations and other funding sources in order to keep up with the demand for their services, she said.

“We don’t expect the state to fund 100 percent of our operations,” Svoboda said. “[But] our centers are currently at maximum capacity. Demand is increasing and untapped sources of funding are few and far between.”

Anne Boatright also testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska attorney general’s office. She said CACs are essential in prosecuting crimes against children, both for the evidence they collect and the services they provide to victims. She described an individual in south central Nebraska who was a survivor of both child abuse and sex trafficking.

“Without the CAC’s extraordinary staff, we would not have been able to begin to support this victim in her healing from these atrocious crimes,” she said. “We cannot expect victims who have experienced such intense levels of abuse to recover without these specialized services.”

Gene Klein, executive director of Project Harmony—a child advocacy center in Omaha—also testified in favor of the bill. State funding to CACs covers approximately one-third of the cost of a child evaluation, he said, and centers must fundraise to cover the shortfall.

“The significant increase in the volume of need cannot be managed with golf tournaments and fundraisers anymore,” Klein said.

No one testified against LB779 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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