Gov. Dave Heineman reserves judgment on child welfare legislation on the verge of passing the legislature and suggests state government needs to answer a big question emerging about the issue.
Heineman says it appears the legislature has made good progress on child welfare legislation. He remains concerned about costs and says he has time to review the legislation before it reaches his desk. The governor says, though, that a big question remains unanswered.
“Another key issue that we still haven’t resolved yet that we need to get to the bottom of: why in this family-friendly state called Nebraska do twice as many kids come in to our child welfare system as any other state in America?” Heineman asked. “We need to address that.”
Heineman says he favors the move to make Nebraska Families Collaborative a pilot project for privatization in the Omaha area.
The legislature has advanced five bills which outline proposed fixes to the troubled state child welfare system. Among other things, the bills create a Children’s Commission to guide reform, create the Office of Inspector General within the legislature’s Ombudsman’s office, require certain data to be collected by Department of Health and Human Services, instruct
DHHS to draft a strategic plan for moving forward, establish a foster care demonstration project, increase foster care reimbursements and return case management to the state, except in the Omaha area in which NFC, the only private agency left in the system, will be the lead agency as a pilot project.
Cost has been a concern during debate. 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.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:40]