A legislative committee calls for changes to a child welfare system it flatly states is broken.
A 425-page report [click here for link to report] has been released by the Health and Human Services Committee, a follow-up of harsh indictments of the Families Matters initiative leveled by a state audit and a report issued by the legislative Performance Audit Committee. The report contains 18 recommendations. The top three include returning case management to the state, creating a Children’s Commission and establishing a Department of Children’s Services.
Committee chairwoman Kathy Campbell of Lincoln insisted during a news conference at the Capitol that the report is not a slap at privatization.
“I’m not sure that we’re making a comment one way or the other, other than to tell you that we do think that the Families Matter initiative has not worked as it has been established and we want to build a new system,” according to Campbell.
Committee member after committee member found fault with the system that has come under withering criticism of late. State Auditor Mike Foley criticized the Department of Health and Human Services for failing to publicly bid multi-million dollar contracts with private sector providers. His audit disclosed that Nebraska’s effort to privatize child welfare services has increased costs by 27% over the last two years. The legislature’s Performance Audit Committee faulted the leadership of the Children and Family Services Division within the Department of Health and Human Services, stating that Families Matters lacked transparency and accountability.
Gov. Dave Heineman announced changes in response to the criticism while maintaining that the state will stick with the privatization matters he implemented. Heineman named Vicki Maca Families Matter administrator for the Eastern and Southeast Service Areas of Nebraska which includes the Omaha and Lincoln area and accounts for more than 70% of the children and families that HHS serves.
Members of the Health and Human Services Committee steered away from direct criticism of the Heineman Administration during the news conference. Members said they weren’t interested in pointing fingers, but rather were interested in improving services for children in the state’s care.