Speaker of the Legislature, Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, says the decision by KVC to no longer be a lead agency in providing child welfare services in Nebraska doesn’t make the issue any more urgent this legislative session. Flood says it has been a top priority from the beginning of the session.
KVC Behavioral Healthcare Nebraska is the largest provider of child welfare services in the state, but couldn’t reach agreement with the state on funding, so it will pull out as a lead agency in Families Matter this week. The state Health and Human Services Department will resume case management duties at the beginning of next month. Though KVC has decided to end case management duties, it will continue to be a provider in about 300 licensed foster homes.
KVC serves 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 and will expand to serve the entire Omaha metropolitan area.
Flood tells Nebraska Radio Network the legislature has understood from the beginning of session child welfare had to be addressed this year.
“I think it’s at the top of the list, at the same level as the budget and the financial issues are,” Flood says. “I think it’s all competing for the same dollar, so it’s all going to be part of the big conversation.”
Flood estimates that about 20 of the 49 senators fully understand the issues surrounding Nebraska’s troubled child welfare system, which has been harshly criticized by the state auditor for overspending and lax record keeping as well as by two legislative committees. Flood expects the remaining senators to quickly get up to speed during debate on bills that will be brought to the floor by the Health and Human Services Committee, which Flood says might reach the floor in about a week and a half.
Several bills have been placed on the legislative agenda. They include creating a Children’s Commission, returning case management back to the state and implementing a foster care demonstration project, all from the Health and Human Services Committee. The Legislative Performance Audit Committee proposes a bill requiring reports and a strategic plan be drafted by the Division of Children and Families.
Flood has announced that the legislature will debate child welfare bills Tuesday and Wednesday.
Senators enter the stretch run of the short legislative session at the end of the week when March rolls around. Though this is a short session, Flood says the legislature will get done the work that needs to be done.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:35]
AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews Speaker Mike Flood [3:15]