The state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would be required to provide case management for Nebraska’s child welfare system under a bill advanced from general file March 7.
In July 2009, the department selected six private entities as lead agencies to implement a child welfare reform initiative. All but one lead agency – Nebraska Families Collaborative (NFC) in Omaha – have left the reform process, citing an inability to fund their portion of the reform effort under the terms of their individual contracts with DHHS.
During general file debate on LB961, introduced by the Health and Human Services Committee, Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood expressed concern that moving all case management back to DHHS could result in the loss of NFC as the sole remaining lead agency, requiring yet another costly and disruptive transition within the child welfare system.
Flood suggested the possibility of exempting the area of the state served by NFC and using the remainder of the agency’s contract period as a pilot project to study how best to provide case management services – through the state or through a private contractor.
Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, chairperson of the Health and Human Services Committee, offered an amendment on select file reflecting Flood’s suggestion.
The amendment, adopted 35-0, replaced the bill and would return case management to DHHS by April 1, 2012. An exception would be made in the eastern service area, in which the department would be allowed to contract for lead agency case management as a pilot project.
Campbell said the reporting, monitoring and evaluation of the pilot project would mirror the requirements for DHHS case management outlined in the bill. The department would be required to review the pilot project before April 1, 2013, and make recommendations to the Legislature regarding alteration and/or continuation of the project.
Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln questioned whether the April deadline would allow enough time to gather all the relevant data necessary to compare public and private case management.
Campbell said the committee was confident that the time frame for the pilot program was sufficient.
“We feel that the deadline in the bill is reasonable,” she said. “We believe that they can make it and that they can bring forth good information.”
The amendment also addressed provisions of LB961 dealing with the issue of caseload size.
Under the amendment, both the department and the pilot project lead agency would be required to reduce caseload size to between 12 and 17 cases per worker by Sept. 1, 2012. If children in a family receive services in the home, all children would be considered one case. If any child is placed out of the home, each child would be considered one case.
Campbell said the amended bill reflects lawmakers’ concern for the safety and well-being of Nebraska’s foster children and a commitment to helping them find permanency through safely returning them home or arranging for guardianship or adoption.
“Every child deserves to have a sense of permanency in their lives,” she said.
Lawmakers advanced LB961 to final reading by voice vote.