Capitol: Child welfare oversight bills advance

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March 7th, 2012

Lincoln, NE – The Legislature gave second-round approval Wednesday to a package of bills to change the child welfare system.

Sen. Kathy Campbell said she hopes the Legislature continues to have some involvement in child welfare over time. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Included in the package are measures to hire an outside evaluator to look at the child welfare system: an Inspector General to investigate trends, and a Children’s Commission to come up with a strategic plan.

There’s also a requirement for the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee to recommend by April 1, 2013, whether a pilot program should be changed or continued. That’s a reference to private management of child welfare cases in Douglas and Sarpy Counties – the one area of the state where private agencies have not dropped out or been terminated for financial reasons.

And while the Department of Health and Human Services remains in charge of the overall system, there are ongoing requirements for reports to the committee on how it’s functioning.

Sen. Ken Haar asked Sen. Kathy Campbell, chairwoman of the committee, about that, “We are, to a certain extent, really putting our nose into the business of an agency that is really overseen by the governor,” Haar said. “When do you see us withdrawing from this?”

Campbell, whose committee has complained that the Legislature wasn’t involved in the original privatization plan, said that senators have an important role to play.

“What we’re trying to do is put into place systems of oversight,” Campbell said. “I would hope, Sen. Haar, that for a long time, the Legislature continues to have an involvement, along with the Executive Branch and the Judiciary. It’s going to take all three of us to work on this system over time.”

The bills were all advanced on a voice vote, and need one more vote of approval before being sent to the governor.

Senators also gave first round approval to restructuring the Foster Care Review Board, the watchdog of the foster care system. The bill by Sen. Bob Krist would say that members of a new Foster Care Advisory committee should have no financial interest in the foster care system and would not be employed by the Department of Health and Human Services, a county, an agency that cares for or places children, or a court.

Senators supporting the proposal said it was designed to eliminate conflicts of interest.

The Department of Health and Human Services also announced today it has hired a new director of the Children and Family Services Division, which heads the child welfare system. Thomas Pristow of Mineral, VA will lead the department, beginning March 21. Scot Adams has served as interim director since Todd Reckling resigned in October, 2011.

In a statement, DHHS said Pristow previously served as director of the Louisa County Department of Human Services in Louisa, Va. He held that position for less than a year. He joined Louisa County in April, 2011, and before that, he directed the Department of Human Services in Norfolk, Va. from September 2009 to March, 2011. The statement said Pristow served as deputy director of DHS in Newport News, Va. for just over a year, and he spent more than 14 years in the Department for Children and Families in Vermont.

Robyn Wisch contributed to this report.

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