State forges ahead to privatize foster care

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November 30th, 2010

Lincoln, NE – The state’s moving ahead with plans to turn over managing some child welfare cases to private organizations in January. But the Legislature is still hearing about problems and criticisms of the reforms.

For the past year, Nebraska’s been privatizing responsibilities for handling child welfare cases. The stated goal is to improve services for children and families in need. The state entered contract with five organizations, of which one went bankrupt, one withdrew and one had its contract terminated. And some foster parents have complained of bad communication and confusion about whether the private organizations or the state was in charge. At a legislative hearing Tuesday, Senator Annette DuBas of Fullerton described one foster mother’s complaints.

“She hadn’t been paid for things that she needed,” she said. “She hadn’t been given the proper information… the kids came into her home rated as a zero, which apparently means they didn’t have a lot of real pressing needs. And it turns out these kids had some very pressing needs: bed wetting, ADHD, a lot of things like that. But she wasn’t given that information. And in the course of the conversation, the… caseworker, or whoever she was working with said, ‘Well, you volunteered for this job.”

Todd Reckling of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services said officials are trying to communicate better, and more privatization will clarify the confusion many people feel. But while critics want the state to slow down and evaluate changes already made, Reckling said privatization will continue as scheduled.

“We know that we need to make some changes,” he said. “It’s a cultural shift for us… It’s a cultural shift for the system. But we know we can do it and we know we must do better.” The bottom line, he said, is “families matter the most, and that’s why we’re all here.”

The next step in reform is to transfer responsibilities for managing child welfare cases in eastern and southeast Nebraska from the state to private organizations. That’s supposed to happen January 3rd. Reckling said it won’t happen until his department files a report justifying the decision, and gets approval from the Director of Administrative Services. That report was originally expected several weeks ago. Reckling says it’s taking longer than expected, but will be done “soon.”

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