Legislators have advanced five bills intended to address problems with the state child welfare system, but a legislative leader says more work must be done.
Health and Human Services Chairwoman Kathy Campbell of Lincoln says she’s pleased all five bills have advanced, but she is quick to add this is just a first step toward addressing problems in child welfare.
“All these pieces are now into place, but we need to carry them out,” Campbell tells Nebraska Radio Network.
The Unicameral has advanced LB 821, which would create a Children’s Commission and the Office of Inspector General; LB 1160, which would require certain data collection; LB 949, which requires the Department of Health and Human Services to draft a strategic plan for moving forward; and LB 820, which would establish a foster care demonstration project and increase foster care reimbursements.
Lawmakers have also tackled the tricky issue of case management. Campbell and her committee have stated that management of child welfare cases is a core responsibility of the state. The report the committee issue may return of case management to the state the top priority in addressing problems within the system. Some lawmakers, though, still hold out hope that a private contractor could prove a quality lead agency.
The legislature has given tentative approval to LB 961, which would return management of child welfare cases to the state. Campbell agreed to amend the bill before it returns for the second round of debate to make the work of Nebraska Families Collaborative in Omaha a pilot project to determine if a private contractor can serve as a lead agency.
The bills advanced without one dissenting vote being case, a surprise to Campbell.
“Very much so. Very much so. It was just gratifying,” Campbell says.
Some questions remain about cost. Nebraska had approximately 2,800 children in the system in January. The Health and Human Services Committee estimates that increasing the stipend to foster parents would cost $3.2 million. It is estimated that immediately requiring the state to bring child care caseload managements up to national standards would cost $20 million. The committee recommends gradually bringing caseloads into compliance over the next four years at about $5 million a year.
With the first-round of work completed, the legislation sits in a good position to pass, according to Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk.
“This is a good sign. It’s a very good first step and I’d say we’re more than half-way there.”
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]