Last week, the State Auditor released a report on the child welfare privatization, which detailed, among other things, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ gross mismanagement and lack of oversight of valuable taxpayer dollars intended for the state’s most vulnerable children. Appleseed is deeply troubled by the severity of the information in the Auditor’s report. So much so, that it prompted us to say, “enough is enough” and to be the first to publicly call for the state to pull back from this reform and stabilize the system.
We also made clear recommendations that we believe are necessary to stabilize the system in our testimony last week before the Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature. Specifically, in light of the current instability and unsustainability of the system, we believe the state should pull back from this reform until core issues are addressed, including: 1) eliminating Medicaid cost-shifting and insuring that children receive appropriate services in the appropriate system and setting, 2) creating an adequate service array that includes preventative and wrap-around services, and 3) establishing a structure that meets the state’s obligation to provide proper oversight of cases.
Nebraska Appleseed has long-supported comprehensive reform of the system and shares some of the underlying goals of the current reform efforts, such as safely reducing the number of children in out-of-home care, requiring evidence-based practices and drawing on the strengths of local providers. However, we are deeply concerned about the effect the reform has had on children and families in the system – including instability for hundreds of children and families, the erosion of service infrastructure in the state, and economic turmoil for local community-based agencies as well as for state and private agency employees. This result could have been prevented by appropriate oversight and transparency. The state has an obligation to children in its care and to the taxpayers of this state to be good stewards of public dollars, and has not met those obligations. It is time for the Department to acknowledge that these are not just bumps in the road and that this reform as structured is not viable, nor is it in the best interests of children and families or the state of Nebraska.