A System in Disarray: The Child Welfare System in Nebraska

Nebraska seems fine at putting their children at risk. Over ten years ago the state decided to privatize their child welfare services, but – surprise, surprise – the entire system fell apart. It took YEARS to fix what happened while the double-pronged approach also had them cleaning up their image in the public eye. As with children in the system, stability is vital to a successful, persistent, and constantly replenished system. But the goodwill they earned at cleaning up their mess didn’t seem to mean much to the State because now they’re shaking things up again to the detriment to the people they serve. We’re Robert and Kathey Raskin, and we’re here to tell you all about what we’ve learned.

If It Isn’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has selected a new, out-of-state private child welfare provider for Douglas and Sarpy Counties. The current provider, PromiseShip, had high scores for service quality and management. Our research has found that HHS awarded the contract to St. Francis Ministries.

St. Francis’ history in Kansas has drawn ire from Nebraska lawmakers and child advocates. These concerned citizens cite concerns about foster placement stability, case manager workloads, and costs. They bid $196 million over five years, far lower than PromiseShip’s proposal of $341 million. That’s a big red flag to us, because you get what you pay for. Caveat emptor: one of the oldest clichés in the book, yet it always seems to be viable to the situation at hand.


The Debate

A spokeswoman for Saint Francis claims the organization “will meet all expectations outlined in our Nebraska contract and conform to all applicable state regulations and laws.”

Former CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Kerry Winterer points out that “changing contractors at this time based only on cost and ignoring PromiseShip’s experience and success in providing these services, not to mention its scoring better on the substantive criteria, is a mistake and puts our children at risk.”

The state has an enormous responsibility to get this right. Child welfare service is complicated, as you know from the reporting that we’ve done over the years. It demands a high level of competence. The potential for corruption is high within the industry and the children lose.

KMTV gives you a rundown on the changes here: