An issue lingers over this legislative session with the governor and lawmakers both saying something must be done to fix a broken child welfare system. What that something is has yet to be determined.
Gov. Dave Heineman, in the State of the State address, said there’s no single simple solution to problems with the child welfare system.
“We’re all in this together. All of us have a responsibility to improve the system,” Heineman told lawmakers. “The accountability starts with you and me.”
Heineman conceded during the speech that reform of the child welfare system “hasn’t been implemented as well as anyone would like…” He added he didn’t “want to return to the failed practices of the past.”
Exactly what he wants to do wasn’t made clear in the State of the State address which spoke in generalities about the problem and avoided advocating specific solutions.
That lack of specifics doesn’t faze Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. Krist says the fact that child welfare was the first issue mention by the governor in the speech meant a lot.
“I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled, because I think it’s the best news we’ve had in months,” Krist tells Nebraska Radio Network. “What he’s saying in the State of the State is that all three branches of government and the agencies and the department need to come together and figure out how to fix this.”
Krist says that all three branches of government must work together to fix a system he says is clearly broken.
Some reports on child welfare have been harshly critical. The committee issued a 425-page report that offered 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.
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.
Krist says that the legislature needs to focus on reform. He says privatization is a tool, but reform is the real issue.
The Health and Human Services Committee begins hearings on child welfare legislation today. As many as eight bills have been filed based on the committee recommendations.