In Nebraska Child Welfare Reform Should Focus on Removing Fewer Children not Starting New State Agencies

The Platte Institute released my new policy study on the future of child welfare reform in Nebraska, specifically analyzing the effects of privatization and how it can be improved in the future.

Nebraska Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee put out a report advocating returning casework to the state and creating a new state agency. However, the state has not proved to be successful at handling child welfare. The Nebraska Foster Care Review Board 2010 Annual Report-which analyzes data through June 2011-showed that both the state and lead agencies had similarly negative outcomes for kids. One indicator showed that more than half of all children in out-of-home care had four or more state DHHS workers assigned to manage their cases during their time in the system, up from 35 percent in 2008. In those areas of the state where reform has contracted case management to private agencies, only 21 percent of children had four or more staff assigned to their cases. The state’s negative outcome for this indicator is nearly double the lead agencies and impacts a much larger number of children.[5] Additionally, in a survey to identify the “level of satisfaction” with the system felt by biological and foster parents, lead agencies had a better score than the state in all but two of the eleven areas in the survey.[6]

With all the investment in privatization, returning services to the state would be wasteful and counterproductive. Instead of focusing on yet another governance or structural change, policymakers must focus on the inherent barriers that make both the state and the private contractors unsuccessful at meeting the goal of rightsizing child welfare. Even if the state moves forward with a governance change, they would still be forced to deal with these same structural issues.

The legislature should focus their efforts on enabling the recommendations that are most connected to outcomes for children, including immediately seeking a federal waiver to enable the financing of these changes with flexible federal funding. In addition, financing of child welfare must be realigned toward the goal of front-end, cost-effective services like prevention, early intervention, and in-home services, which reduce the trauma of out-of-home care for children which should be a last resort.

It is possible to improve child welfare in Nebraska, but it can only be done if the legislature focuses on the real structural problems, and not simply governance issues.

The Omaha News looks at my study here.

The entire study may be viewed here (.pdf).