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Nebraska HHS official recommends extending child welfare contract for another year

Nebraska HHS official recommends extending child welfare contract for another year

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LINCOLN — A top state official is recommending that Nebraska continue contracting out management of Omaha-area child welfare cases for another year.

In a letter to lawmakers, Tony Green, acting children and family services director for the Department of Health and Human Services, said a contract extension would allow time to choose the best course of action for the future.

Green said he would start negotiating the extension on April 1, unless the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee objects.

The committee has not taken up the issue yet, but State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln said she would support Green’s recommendation.

“There’s certainly no way we can end this contract this quickly,” she said.

The state’s contract with the Nebraska Families Collaborative, an Omaha-based nonprofit, expires June 30.

It was originally signed in 2009 and has been extended once already for one year. The contract this year is worth up to $59.5 million.

Nebraska policymakers are facing a decision about whether to continue with the partially privatized child welfare system, return case management duties to HHS workers or try some third option.

A study released last month concluded that the current system has not produced “any measurable benefit” for the state.

The study, which was commissioned by the Legislature, found no cost savings and no significant difference — either positive or negative — in outcomes for children and families from having the collaborative handle cases in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

The study compared results achieved by the collaborative and by state workers, who manage cases outside of the Omaha area.

Green said the contract extension would allow policymakers time to consider the report and make a well-planned decision. It also would allow time for a gradual transition, if the decision is to take a new direction.

If not, the state would need to seek competitive bids on the contract. Ideally, he said, the state would need six months to plan and develop a request for proposals and another six months to receive bids and award a contract.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist said he thinks a contract extension makes sense, especially because HHS has been operating under acting leadership since Gov. Pete Ricketts took office.

The agency’s new CEO, Courtney Phillips, is slated to start April 2. The governor has not yet named a director for the children and family services division.

The collaborative was formed by Boys Town and other Omaha-area service providers. It is the only one of the five original contractors remaining in the state’s experiment with privatizing the management of child welfare. The four other original contractors lost or dropped their contracts.

The state child welfare system has endured several disruptions since the privatization effort was launched. And HHS has poured more money into services than had been budgeted.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

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