Nebraska finds problem with privatization of child welfare

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska’s use of a private contractor to help care for neglected and abused children in the Omaha region has been plagued by issues, including high turnover in the workforce , inadequate funding and a lack of leadership, according to a legislative report released on Wednesday.

The report comes a day after the state announced it would terminate its contract with Saint Francis Ministries, a Kansas-based supplier facing major financial problems. after winning the contract in 2019. Saint Francis was hired to oversee children’s services in Douglas and Sarpy counties.

Nebraska began its experiment with privatized child welfare services in 2009, hiring private organizations in different regions to coordinate and manage services such as family visits, preparation for court hearings, and paperwork. Over time, all regions except the Omaha region returned to state management as providers struggled to manage a significant number of cases, did not respond to expectations and lost money.

“Through its work, the committee observed that the Nebraska privatization initiative, which began in 2009, suffered from the lack of an appropriate cost analysis and a contractual structure that posed financial risks to entrepreneurs, ”lawmakers said in the report. “The result was a disruption of child welfare statewide as contractors gave up one by one. “

Nebraska officials negotiated a new $ 66.7 million contract with Saint Francis in January to prevent him from running out of money. Saint Francis won the original contract in 2019 by significantly sub-bidding PromiseShip, an Omaha-based agency that held the previous contract.

Saint Francis agreed to provide similar services at a 40% discount from what PromiseShip could offer. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services was later criticized for accepting an offer that should have looked suspicious at the time and later turned out to be unrealistic.

Saint Francis has also struggled with high caseloads and staff turnover, and its former leaders were fired after an investigation uncovered financial mismanagement within the association.

In its Tuesday announcement, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said the agency would take on case management responsibilities but would continue to use Saint Francis as a child placement service.

“Our mutual respect, passion and love for the children and families we care for enabled us to make this decision,” said Dannette Smith, CEO of the department. “Although Saint François is no longer the main agency in the Omaha region, our partnership with this agency will continue. “

William Clark, president and CEO of Saint Francis Ministries, said the association will work with the state to ensure a smooth transition for children and their families. The state will likely hire employees from Saint Francis to continue serving the children.

“In the coming weeks, our first priority will remain caring for those we serve,” Clark said in a statement.


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