GOTHENBURG — How well are the communities of Dawson County, as well as the county itself, meeting the needs of children and families?
This basic question is at the heart of a community assessment and planning process for children, youth and families which is colloquially referred to as a Service Array.
This service array for Dawson County is being headed by Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and the Gothenburg Early Childhood Learning Coalition, GECLC.
These service array days, which occurred in Gothenburg on Friday, Jan. 31 and planned for Lexington and Cozad, provide people opportunities to provide information and data to help guide the future directions for the availability, quantity and quality of resources in Dawson County for children and families.
So far, over 30 different Nebraska counties have completed service array assessments, using tools and a process developed by the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Family Centered Practice.
A service array, at its heart, plans to build on existing services and data and information provided will be used for planning extension, enhancements and realignments to provide better services to a wider range of people and families.
The information collected and data will be used in an assessment by Nebraska Children and Families, as a part of the Child Well Being Initiative
Nicole Hetz is the Dawson County Community Wellness Coordinator, working through Nebraska Children and Families, as well has holding a position with GECLC.
Hetz said the service array days are an opportunity for community members and agencies to gather and have a conversation about services offered to families and children.
The key areas which are being addressed are,
Child and Youth Safety and Development
Family Safety and Development
On Jan. 31 Gothenburg and other county community members had gathered at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church’s Parish Hall to discuss these needs.
After a data presentation and an overview of how the service array process would work, the group had their first breakout session, where three different groups discussed the key areas of the service array continuum, said Hetz.
The groups spoke about accessibility, quality and the importance of the services in place or those which were found to be lacking, Hetz said.
In basic needs, assistance in the areas of cash, food, utilities, clothing, housing, child care, transportation employment and living wages were discussed.
Data gathered by Nebraska Children and Families showed the number of family households is declining in Gothenburg and there is a lack of population growth in Gothenburg and Dawson County.
The percentage of vacant housing units in Gothenburg was higher than the state average.
The data also uncovered it takes 63 hours of work per week at minimum wage to afford a two bedroom home in Gothenburg.
Poverty in Gothenburg was lower than the state average but the percent of the overall population living at or below the poverty level is higher in Dawson County than the state overall. People under 18-year-old are impacted by poverty at a higher rate.
Unemployment is lower in both Gothenburg and Dawson County, compared to the rest of the state.
In health care access, factors considered were children’s health insurance, mental health treatment, primary children health care, primary adult health care, child dental care, prescription drugs, substance abuse treatment, nutrition, opportunities for physical activity and adolescent sexual health.
Data showed the percent of children without health insurance in Gothenburg was higher than the state average.
There were also found to be shortages in multiple health care provider positions including, pediatrics, obstetricians, surgery, clinical psychologists, licensed mental health practitioners, alcohol and drug abuse counselors, child psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatric dentists, oral surgeons and pharmacists.
It was also found almost twice as many women who give birth in Dawson County received inadequate prenatal care compared to the state average.
The number of single parent households is also on the rise in Gothenburg and Dawson County, according to Nebraska Children and Families data.
In the Child and Youth Development section, several areas looked at included, educational services for children, early intervention for special needs, early childhood education, school based personal safety curriculum, before and after school programs, mentoring for children, youth empowerment opportunities, youth crisis alternatives, suicide prevention, etc.
Some positive points in the data showed the high school graduation rate was higher in Gothenburg Public Schools and Dawson County than the state average.
It was noted fewer Gothenburg and Dawson County residents have bachelor’s degrees compare to the state and national average.
A general child care provider and space shortage was noted across the county and fewer than one-in-five providers in Gothenburg accept child care subsidies.
Substance use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders was also noted in the data collected.
Students in Dawson County consistently reported higher cigarette use rates than the state average. Marijuana use is also more common among 8th and 10th graders in the county, while prescription drug use is higher among 10th graders.
In Family Safety and Development, things like home visitation, crisis stabilization, respite care, parent education, child centered mediation for divorcing parents, legal assistance, life skills training, household management, domestic violence and school resource teams were brought up.
The rates of arrest were higher for both the Gothenburg Police Department and Dawson County as a whole, compared to the state, according to the data.
Arrests for domestic violence assaults in Gothenburg were lower than other areas.
The number of juveniles arrested by the Gothenburg Police Department ranged between nine and 20 between 2013 and 2018, a lower average compared to the state.
The types of offenses which juveniles were most frequently arrested for include simple assault, vandalism, liquor laws, larceny and drug abuse violations.
Hetz said the different groups worked through the main points and the data, highlighting what services were in place addressing needs and those which were needed.
Another component of these conversations was building relationships, said Hetz. Community members could connect with one another over the opportunities to open new services or to find ways to meet the needs as they were discussed.
The next Service Array days in Dawson County will be occurring in Lexington and Cozad.
The Lexington event will be hosted on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at Central Community College in the Dawson County Opportunity Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cozad’s event will be at the Wilson Public Library on Thursday, March 26.
Any interested community members are invited to attend and are encouraged to participate in these conversations to help get the best picture possible of the needs and services available throughout the county, according to Nebraska Children and Families.
Those county residents who reside outside of town or in the smaller communities are invited to attend a service array event at whichever community they most identify with. A whole picture of the county is needed, making their contribution just as important.
Interested parties can RSVP at the GECLC website.
Hetz said once all the meetings have been held, the data and information gathered in one report and an assessment will be brought back to the whole county in an event on April 17 at 9 a.m., with the location still being determined.
“It’s important to improve the county’s service,” Hetz said, “a lot of good work is being done.”