Progress of youth services reform discussed

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony Nov. 30 on the progress of efforts to reform the state’s child welfare and juvenile services system.

LR568, passed during the 2010 regular session, calls for an examination of the state Department of Health and Human Services’ implementation of changes to juvenile services intended to reduce out-of-home care, the effectiveness of public-private partnerships and the impact of recent reforms on the state’s ability to meet various federal guidelines regarding the safety and well-being of juveniles receiving state services.

Kerry Winterer, chief executive officer of DHHS, said the department is learning from experience and acknowledged that the reform process has not been smooth.

“Reform has not gone as we planned,” he said. “But we are serious about doing it right and we believe that we are on the right path.”

Todd Reckling, director of the division of children and family services, agreed.

“We know we can do better,” he said. “We want to do the right thing for kids.”

And the right thing for kids, according to Reckling, is to keep them in their homes if at all possible.

“Kids grow best in their own homes,” he said, noting that Nebraska historically has had one of the highest child removal rates in the country. “On any given day, more than 4,000 Nebraska children are away from their families.”

Reckling said the current focus of reform efforts is to shift case management from DHHS to the state’s two lead contractors, KVC Behavioral HealthCare Nebraska and the Nebraska Families Collaborative. This allows DHHS to concentrate on oversight and intake functions, he said, enabling lead agencies to focus on service provision.

DHHS hopes to complete the case management transition by Jan. 3, 2011, Reckling said.

Calling herself “guardedly optimistic” about reform efforts, Kathy Bigsby Moore, executive director of Voices for Children, questioned the urgency of the case management transition.

She cited a lack of evidence that privatizing case management automatically will lead to improved results for children and families.

Moore said the plan lacks job descriptions for case managers, approval from the state Department of Administrative Services to move case management to the private sector and buy-in from stakeholders.

“Why the compulsion to move quickly?” she said. “I am still concerned that some of those pieces aren’t in place.”

The committee will report its findings to the Legislature by Dec. 31.

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