Omnibus child welfare bill advanced

A bill that would establish a work group to transform Nebraska’s child welfare system was amended to become an omnibus child welfare measure and advanced from general file Feb. 25.

Sen. John Arch
Sen. John Arch

LB1173, as introduced by the Health and Human Services Committee, would create a work group to find ways to improve the state’s child welfare system. It would seek input from individuals with experience within the child welfare system, providers, law enforcement, county attorneys and others.

Under the bill, the group would include the following state Department of Health and Human Services directors or their designees: Behavioral Health, Children and Family Services, Developmental Disabilities, Medicaid and Long-Term Care and Public Health. The group also would include the commissioner of education, the state court administrator, a member of the Nebraska Supreme Court and representatives from each federally recognized Native American tribe in Nebraska.

Committee chairperson Sen. John Arch of La Vista offered an amendment, adopted 45-0, allowing any member of the state judiciary to serve on the work group rather than requiring a member of the state Supreme Court.

The work group would be tasked with developing program goals and finance models for service delivery, engagement strategies for community involvement and increased engagement across different branches of government and state agencies, as well as developing accountability, data collection and outcome monitoring strategies.

The group also would be required to evaluate the state’s claiming efforts for federal dollars and how to optimize federal reimbursement. The work group would submit a report to the Health and Human Services Committee and the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2023.

Arch, a member of a special committee established to evaluate privatized child welfare case management, said privatization was poorly planned, caused problems in delivering services and ultimately cost Nebraska as much money as maintaining state service delivery would have.

“We have not had a good, strategic direction with our child welfare services for a number of years,” he said.

The committee offered an amendment, adopted 45-0, to add provisions of three additional bills:
• LB491, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, which would remove DHHS’ authority to contract with a lead agency for case management in the department’s eastern service area of Douglas and Sarpy counties;
• LB541, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, which would require the Division of Children and Family Services to implement statewide tiers for a specialized level of care for foster care reimbursement and to partner with the Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care to develop a plan for treatment family care services by Oct. 1, 2022, and to implement that plan by Oct. 1, 2023; and
• LB854, introduced by Omaha Sen. Jen Day, which would require the Division of Children and Family Services to immediately notify the Division of Public Health of any reports DHHS receives of alleged out-of-home child abuse or neglect by a child care provider or child care staff member.

Senators advanced LB1173 to select file on a vote of 45-0.

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