Nebraska’s child welfare system is undergoing change and the man in charge hopes that means the state is ready to look forward.
State lawmakers focused on child welfare during the legislative session, passing a series of bills to fix problems in what many called a broken system. The legislature followed up criticism leveled against the system by a state audit and two separate legislative committees. Some of the criticism was harsh.
Health and Human Services CEO Kerry Winterer took the brunt of the criticism. Winterer says the department is ready to get past that and incorporate changes approved by the legislature.
“I think the criticism in terms of where we have been has very much fallen off and I think most people are focused on where do we go from here and the more positive things that we can be looking at,” Winterer tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview.
Winterer says the legislation approved this past session will incorporate more segments of government in the system and broaden the effort to make improvements. Case management has returned to the state, with one exception. Caseloads have been reduced in the Omaha and Lincoln areas. Work remains in rural Nebraska. Winterer says DHHS has plans in place to make comparable caseload reductions in outstate Nebraska.
One piece of legislation will help DHHS fulfill another mandate approved by the legislature. The legislature, in LB 949, requires the department to develop a strategic plan for improvement; a plan that would include goals, benchmarks and progress reports. Winterer says the Children’s Commission, created by LB 821, will aid DHHS in developing that strategic plan. The governor’s office has begun seeking applications for the commission.
Not every aspect of the experiment in privatization has been brushed away. Nebraska Families Collaborative continues to deliver child welfare services in the Omaha area as a pilot program. Winterer says NFC should provide an example of how privatization can work and he adds that what might work in Omaha, might not work in the rural parts of the state.
Other bills approved by the legislature increase foster care payments, require DHHS to apply for a federal foster care demonstration project, create an Inspector General for child welfare, and changes provisions for managing child welfare cases.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]
AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews DHHS CEO Kerry Winterer [9:35]