On Friday afternoon, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its next steps in the child welfare reform in a press release. These next steps include transferring additional case management responsibilities from the state to the remaining private agencies. This has and will mean layoffs of a number of state caseworkers. Yet nowhere in the press release was that fact mentioned. This decision will also have the effect of more fully privatizing Nebraska’s child welfare system. This is more than a “next step,” as HHS describes it. It’s a significant policy decision and perhaps the most fundamental change to the child welfare system that can be made. But you may not have realized it from reading the press release.
We are concerned about the impact of these substantial changes on children and families in the system, particularly at a time when the system is already in flux. We had hoped that the state would take some time to fully reevaluate the structure of this reform. Instead, this decision, made without stakeholder input, moves the reform ahead without evidence that the existing plan is sustainable. This decision will also result in another caseworker change, or the loss of a caseworker who has been a consistent force in the case.
This reform, not even one year old, has resulted in turmoil for hundreds of children and families, state and private agency employees, and community based agencies in our state as well as the loss of millions of dollars. Instead of scrambling from one crisis to the next, this reform plan should be examined with real transparency, perhaps through the Legislature. It’s time for HHS to be accountable to children and families in the system and to the taxpayers who fund it.