Recently, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued a news release announcing a change in caseload standards in response to the passage of LB 961. As our readers may know, five bills targeting Nebraska’s foster care system were passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor this session. Among other things, LB 961 returned child welfare case management to the state (while allowing for Nebraska Families Collaborative (NFC) to continue in Douglas and Sarpy Counties as a “pilot project”) and required a reduction of caseload sizes for caseworkers.
In the news release, DHHS announced that they will be hiring additional staff in the Western, Central, and Northern Service Areas, including 111 former employees of KVC (the former lead agency) in the Southeast Service Area. (NFC continues to be responsible for case management in the Eastern Service Area.) These changes are necessary in order for DHHS to meet the caseload standards set by LB 961 by the September 1st deadline. The new law requires that caseworkers’ caseloads fall between 12 and 17 cases, with each child placed out of the home counting as one case and families with children in the home counting as one case.
The news release also announced DHHS’s plan to align their service area boundaries with those of district court judicial districts – another requirement of LB 961.
We strongly supported the passage of LB 961 because a family’s experience with their caseworker has the potential to make or break case progress. Low caseloads are important in preventing burnout, minimizing staff turnover, and making caseworkers more available, both physically and emotionally, to the families they serve. In addition, research indicates that permanency for children (e.g. adoption, guardianship, reunification) drops significantly with each case manager a child has.
We are pleased to learn that DHHS is taking actions to reduce current caseloads as required by LB 961. However, ongoing tracking of caseloads will be a critically important and potentially challenging task. Therefore, we look forward to learning more about DHHS’s plan to monitor caseloads moving forward.