Return Foster Care Case Management to the State

Sarah Helvey, Child Welfare Director at Nebraska Appleseed, testified last Thursday at the Unicameral’s Health & Human Services Committee in support of LB961. The bill would return foster care case management to the State of Nebraska.  Case management is a core government responsibility. While there is a role for private-public partnerships, and for private agencies to provide certain services, the State has the ultimate legal responsibility for children who are state wards and because of that Nebraska Appleseed support accountable public management of the State’s child welfare system.

[DDET Appleseed Testimony] Senator Kathy Campbell
Chair, Health and Human Services Committee
Room 1402, State Capitol
Lincoln, NE 68509

Chairwoman Campbell and members of the Health and Human Services Committee,

On behalf of the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, I am here to testify in support of LB 961.

We strongly support LB 961 because case management – for children who must be in the system and are placed in the care and custody of the state – is a core government responsibility. While there is a role for public-private partnerships and for private agencies to provide certain services, the state has the ultimate legal responsibility for children who are state wards. Therefore, we support accountable public management of the state’s child welfare system.

Returning case management to the state is necessary to address problems endemic in the current privatization structure. We are aware of concerns that transitioning case management back to the state will cause further instability for children. While we share concerns about instability in the system and the impact of caseworker changes on children, as the legislative findings in LB 961 articulate, the greatest threat to system stability is the risk that a lead agency will terminate their contract and the state will be left with no safety net and no opportunity to carefully transition cases as provided in LB 961. It is not in the best interest of Nebraska’s children for the state to be dependent on private agencies in this way. In addition, major policy decisions that affect the well-being of children and the rights of families in the system should be made as part of an accountable process, not in closed-door negotiations with private corporations.

We are also the first to agree that the “old system” was failing. However, at the same time, as the Committee is aware, in the past two years of the privatization, state child welfare costs have increased 27% and we have seen little to no improvements in the number of children in out-of-home care and other key outcome measures. In addition, while reform has brought with it some important policy changes, such an increased focus on in-home services and relative placements, this philosophical and policy shift is not necessarily specific to privatization and can and should be maintained with the state responsible for case management.Virtually everyone agrees that we can’t return to the failed policies of the past. LB 961 does not do that. It returns case management responsibilities to the state while establishing best practices necessary to stabilize the workforce through reduced caseload standards and identifies the need for improved caseworker support, training, and compensation.

Importantly, LB 961 also requires that a case plan be developed when services are provided as part of a voluntary or non-court involved case. While we believe even more oversight and legal protection may be needed in these types of cases, this provision is an important first step in addressing concerns seen in such cases.

In conclusion, LB 961 is critical to getting the state’s child welfare system back on track, to creating an accountable and dependable system that is focused on the needs of children not the bottom line, and to establishing a case management system and array of services that has the capacity to achieve the outcomes we all want for children.

We thank the Committee for your comprehensive assessment of the child welfare reform as part of LR 37,and for your time and dedication to identifying core problems and advancing comprehensive solutions.

Sincerely,

Sarah Helvey
Staff Attorney/Director
Child Welfare System Accountability Program[/DDET]

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