Foster parents bring concerns to Legislature


November 18th, 2010

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Lincoln, NE – As foster parents and others express concerns about the state’s child welfare reform, state senators are promising the Legislature will get involved.

Sen. Danielle Conrad assured attendees foster care will be addressed at the Capitol (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Almost 100 people showed up for a meeting in Lincoln Wednesday night to talk to Lancaster County senators about the reforms. For the past year, the state has been transferring responsibility for overseeing child welfare cases – responsibilities like finding foster homes, and coordinating services to children — to private contractors. Of the six contractors originally lined up to serve children across Nebraska, four have either dropped out or been terminated. But two remain: Nebraska Families Collaborative in the Omaha area, and KVC Behavioral Health Care in southeast Nebraska, including Lincoln. But people at the meeting, like Sharon Glenn, called the system confusing, Glenn wondered about what it took to get her grandchildren out of a bad situation:

“Three episodes of little babies with no clothes on walking the streets of Lincoln Nebraska,” she said. “How long does it go on? How many calls do you make?”

Foster parent Ruth Applebee said the constant turnover of workers since the reform started has confused children she cares for.

“They don’t understand why – I don’t remember you, have I seen you before?” she said. “It’s just kind of confusing, especially if they’re small and under the age of seven. They don’t understand what’s going on, and it’s hard to explain to them.” She said she’s had five different workers approach her since the transition, and half the time, she doesn’t know who to contact.

But Matt Smith, another foster parent, said KVC has been quicker than the state responding to his requests. “We have seen positive improvement and changes by getting help on the foster care side.”

Joanne Parent, formerly a foster child and now a foster parent, questioned the philosophy behind privatizing child welfare.

“We are not privatizing police, the fire department, but we are pushing the responsibility of the children of the state of Nebraska onto a company,” she said. “A company that, frankly, claims it is not for profit but is certainly conducting itself like it is.”

Topher Hansen is the executive director of Center Pointe, an addiction and mental health treatment program in Lincoln. He offered his interpretation of what’s driving privatization. “Lets not mistake this. This is about money.”

Hansen said Center Pointe had to end some of its treatment programs for lack of clients once private companies assumed responsibilities. Bruce Baker, a volunteer with the Foster Care Review Board, warned senators not to allow the state’s child welfare infrastructure to disappear

“Please get involved in this. Do not be shy and make this thing work,” he said. “You’re, in my opinion, our last best hope.”

Lincoln Senator Kathy Campbell responded, “Mr. Baker, I can assure you after conversations with my colleagues here as well as a number of state senators, this will be an issue in the Legislature.”

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