***For Immediate Release***
July 27, 2022
Sierra Salgado Pirigyi
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
O: (402) 438-8853 ext. 116
Case to End Child Welfare Privatization Dismissed After Successful Legislative Advocacy
Legislation passed in 2022 session achieved same result sought in litigation
LINCOLN, NE – This week, after a multi-year legal battle to end the privatization of child welfare case management services, Nebraska Appleseed’s client, Laura Virgl, dismissed her case after the Nebraska Legislature successfully ended privatization via LB 1173.
In 2019, Nebraska Appleseed brought suit on behalf of Ms. Virgl challenging the privatization of child welfare case management services in the Eastern Service Area (Douglas and Sarpy County) as unjustified, unequal treatment. This suit came a decade after Nebraska’s first failed attempt to privatize its child welfare case management services statewide, which resulted in nearly all contractors terminating their contracts early for inadequate funding, leaving thousands of foster youth in limbo. After these failures, the Nebraska Legislature deemed privatization to be inherently unstable and risky for youth and families, outlawing its use in the state. However, it allowed privatization to continue in the Omaha area, which holds over 40% of Nebraska’s child welfare cases, as a willing and able contractor remained there. This experiment continued, and in 2019 the State chose a new contractor to manage those cases: Saint Francis Ministries. Despite concerns expressed by stakeholders regarding Saint Francis, the State proceeded to transfer all Omaha area cases to them. Then, after two years of a tumultuous and expensive contract performance, Saint Francis’ contract was terminated early. The privatized system failed Nebraska’s children and families once again.
Ms. Virgl brought her suit after the State chose to contract with Saint Francis Ministries, alleging that its continuing to privatize child welfare cases in the Eastern Service Area was unjustified in light of Nebraska’s history with it, privatization being outlawed in the rest of the state, and its choice to contract with Saint Francis. While her case proceeded, advocates continued raising concerns at the Nebraska Legislature until finally, in April of this year, the Legislature passed LB 1173, removing the Department’s authority to privatize case management services and officially ending its experiment with privatization. LB 1173 achieved the outcome Ms. Virgl sought in her case, and as a result, judicial intervention is no longer needed, leading her to dismiss it. In response, Ms. Virgl issued the following statement:
“I am grateful that the Nebraska Legislature made the correct and monumental decision to end privatization. I brought this case to challenge the unwillingness of the State and Legislature to recognize that this was not working. Children and families were being subjected to an unjustified experiment and unequal treatment merely based on where they lived.
Children in foster care should be guaranteed stability, qualified care, and equal access to the supports and services they need. They should never be for profit or experimentation, nor should they be left to languish in a system that is not working for fear of systemic change. I am grateful for the opportunity to have advocated for this important change.”
Nebraska Appleseed’s Child Welfare Program Director, Sarah Helvey, issued the following statement:
“We want to thank Laura Virgl for her advocacy and important work to end privatization for Nebraska’s children and families. Laura is a phenomenal and dedicated advocate who bravely stepped forward to challenge an ineffective system, enduring a long and tough legal battle in the name of a more equal child welfare system.
We are pleased this result was achieved legislatively and want to thank the Nebraska Legislature, and particularly, Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, for her continued work on this issue. This legislation brings a monumental and positive shift in our child welfare system. We will be monitoring this shift to ensure all youth and families continue to receive the services and supports they need to thrive in Nebraska.”