Critics of the move to privatize child welfare services in Nebraska provided the Health and Human Services Committee plenty of examples of a broken system, while providers insisted steps have been taken to address concerns during a hearing at the Capitol that lasted for hours.
The committee itself harshly criticized the current state of the system in a report issued late last year. It has made 18 recommendations for change, one of which proposes that the state take back the case management of foster children. The public hearing attracted a standing-room only crowd at the legislative committee hearing. It began early in the afternoon Thursday and ran until early in the evening.
Romney Reutzel Olson told committee members the move to privatization has hurt the system.
“I believe in collaboration. I believe in listening to each other to form a consensus about moving ahead into unchartered territory,” Olson testified. “That wasn’t done and voices of many were silenced. Now, we are faced with how to move forward when so much is at stake and so little is working the way it should.”
The largest provider of child welfare services in Nebraska, KVC, came under fire numerous times during the hearing. Betty Nisly was one of a number of foster care parents critical of how KVC has managed cases.
“Except for court hearings, there is no contact. They do not answer their phones. Their messages overflow, so they can’t accept a message on their phone,” according to Nisly. “And, foster care parents are left dangling in mid-air. We don’t know what the concerns are with the kids.”
Alicia Henderson with the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office said the state needs to take back case management.
“I would submit, and I think what I’m hearing here is, the problems all come from, we have outsourced the core business of maintaining the children of the state of Nebraska safely and having their well-being first in our minds,” Henderson stated.
The bill that would return case management to the state is LB 961, one of about a dozen bills carrying the committee’s recommendations this legislative session. Some of the recommendations do not need legislative approval. The committee and the governor’s office have been in negotiations about how to proceed. Gov. Dave Heineman has expressed reservations about implementing many of the recommendations, such as a return of case management to the state, the creation of a Children’s Commission and a new state department solely concentrating on child welfare services.
The committee report came after a state audit and a report from the legislature’s Performance Audit Committee issued reports critical of the planning and cots of reforms implemented the past two years.
Officials with KVC and Nebraska Families Collaborative countered the negative criticism, claiming they have taken steps to correct the problems. They say returning case management to the state would be a step backward.