Child welfare just became an even more crucial issue this legislative session.
Already a high priority in the legislative session, child welfare issues have taken on new urgency with the decision of the lead agency to pull out and give case management duties back to the state. KVC relinquished the lead agency duties in Families Matter over a funding dispute with the state, keeping a troubled system in crisis, according to Health and Human Services Committee chairwoman Kathy Campbell of Lincoln.
“I would have to say that it has been in crisis for a period of time,” Campbell told reporters. “From the sense of uncertainty, instability, loss of services across the state; where do we think we’re going?”
Families Matter is the state effort to reform child welfare services, begun in 2009 when Nebraska Children and Family Services signed contracts with five private agencies to provide child services statewide. Three pulled out, leaving KVC and Nebraska Families Collaborative. KVC was, by far, the largest provider, serving 4,700 children and their families in 19 southeastern and eastern Nebraska counties, including Lincoln and portions of Omaha. Nebraska Families Collaborative remains in the system, serving Omaha.
Reports last year disclosed problems with the system, many financial. 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 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.
The Health and Human Services 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.
Campbell said the Children’s Commission could help guide the state in wake of the KVC decision.
A member of the committee, Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, has been harshly critical of the contracts the state has signed with the providers, calling them ill-advised and poorly constructed. Krist said now the state must act carefully.
“A priority in this whole concept is look for a way to do the least amount of harm, the least amount of harm to these kids who have already been harmed in the system, by transitioning things back,” Krist said.
The state takes back case management duties from KVC March 1st.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]