Kearney Hub Staff Writer

KEARNEY — “Needed,” the PowerPoint slide said, “Single father in Kearney about to be reunited with his 7-year-old son needs bunk beds so they can share the single bedroom in his apartment. Right now, the father is sleeping on a mattress on the floor.”

That real-life appeal popped up on the screen Tuesday morning at the CarePortal Launch featuring Nebraska first lady Susanne Shore as the keynote speaker.

CarePortal is a new program that will allow case managers at the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to ask local churches to help fill the needs of vulnerable children and families. If a church can assist, CarePortal will connect the church with that family. Nebraska is the 13th state in the United States to adopt the program.

CarePortal has no contracts with government or child welfare agencies. Local churches are asked to pay $100 a month to help finance the team, network and technology, although Stanton said no church will be turned away.

The network is finalizing a grant through The Nebraska Children and Families Foundation to help with some startup costs, Stanton said. The state may ask local donors, companies, organizations or foundations for help in launching the program.

Under the system, Stanton said, needs will be posted on the CarePortal system, but with no information about the persons or families involved. Churches will respond online, after which a DHHS caseworker will bring the church and the family together.

Also speaking Tuesday was Doug Weinberg, director of the Division of Children and Family Services at the DHHS. He said 1,000 of the 35,000 child abuse calls the DHHS receives in Lincoln each year come from Buffalo County, but it’s rarely about abuse. It’s more often about household needs.

“We believe this program will help keep them from coming into the system in the first place,” he said.

Kathleen Stolz, Central Service Area administrator for DHHS, said household needs can include rent; window air conditioners; cribs; car repair; bikes; beds, because “some kids sleep on the floor or on couches”; and groceries.

“Filling needs through the CarePortal will be a godsend,” she said.

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