A legislative committee releases a report on Nebraska’s effort to privatize child welfare services later this week as questions about the effort continue to be raised.
Questions have been raised by a state audit and by a report issued by the legislature’s Performance Audit Committee.
Committee chairman John Harms of Scottsbluff sees three major issues: leadership, accountability and transparency.
“Leadership is really a big issue here,” according to Harms. “I think if we would have had appropriate leadership, I don’t think we would have been so deep in some of the issues we have today.”
Harms faults the leadership of the Children and Family Services Division within the Department of Health and Human Services. He is less critical of Kerry Winterer, Health and Human Services Department CEO, who he says inherited a lot of the problems.
The Performance Audit Committee found that Nebraska Children and Family Services failed to conduct a cost-benefit analysis prior to plunging into privatization, and failed to set clear goals and timetables for reform. The state has spent $30 million more on privatization than planned. The committee opposes any expansion of privatization efforts.
Privatization began in 2009 when CFS signed contracts with five leader agencies to provide child services statewide.
A report by the Performance Audit Committee has been delivered to the Health and Human Services Committee which plans to release its report later this week. The Performance Audit Committee finds that privatization has reduced the number of children placed out of their homes by only 4%, even though administrators has projected that children served outside their homes would drop from 70% to 30%. Auditors found the state made more progress on the federal Child and Family Services Review prior to privatization.
The committee suggests the legislature consider performance-based budgeting for CFS and explore whether child welfare should become a separate budget program to improve accountability.
Click here for link to report.
Harms acknowledges the committee report paints a bleak picture.
“We’ve put an awful lot of money into this project and I can’t say that we were very successful with it,” Harms says.
State Auditor Mike Foley earlier criticized the Department of Health and Human Services for a lack of documentation on how it spent $7 million on six different providers to privatize the state’s child welfare program. The state audit disclosed child welfare costs have increased by 27% since 2009 when the department implemented the Families Matter reform.
A PDF version of the state audit is available here.
Health and Human Services Committee chairwoman, Senator Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, says her committee has taken its task seriously and she expects the legislature to as well.
“It’s a very complex issue and that complexity I think will certainly be realized by our colleagues,” Campbell says.
Nebraska Children and Family Services failed to conduct a cost-benefit benefit analysis in advance of the multimillion dollar effort to privatize the state child services system nor set clear goals and timetables for the troubled reform, a legislative committee said in a report Friday.
The Performance Audit Committee report also found that CFS, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, has made only modest progress in key areas it had cited to justify privatization.