Proposed changes to the state child welfare system will be made in a number of bills this legislative session.
Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Kathy Campbell of Lincoln says the proposed changes to child welfare services will be divided into six or seven bills. Campbell says the committee considered folding its recommendations into one comprehensive bill.
“We thought that that really might be too difficult. There are just so many moving parts to the child welfare system itself that it might be better to take it in small chunks,” Campbell says.
Campbell says that by dividing the recommendations into about half a dozen bills, the various recommendations can get their own public hearings. The committee made 18 recommendations in its 425-page report. Not all the recommendations need legislation to be implemented. The top three recommendations include returning case management to the state, creating a Children’s Commission and establishing a Department of Children’s Services.
Campbell has been talking with senators about her committee’s report and talking with Gov. Dave Heineman who told reporters in a conference call earlier this week that he’s willing to listen.
“Those conversations are ongoing and I want to continue those before maybe we come forward with might be a plan of action to continue to move forward,” according to Heineman.
The discussions might be delicate. Heineman pushed to privatize state child welfare services. He has stated he will not favor going back to what he calls failed, part policies.
Yet, the Heineman Administration has come under quite a bit of criticism for the change. 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.