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Nebraska officials demand Omaha-area child welfare contractor fix key problems

Nebraska officials demand Omaha-area child welfare contractor fix key problems

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LINCOLN — Nebraska officials are demanding the embattled private contractor managing Omaha-area child welfare cases fix key problems, including several that were supposed to have been fixed earlier.

A report released Monday shows that St. Francis Ministries of Salina, Kansas, fell short on several contracted performance goals during the last quarter of the year. Many were repeats from previous state reviews.

In particular, the report showed:

» Workers continue to handle too many cases and employee turnover remains high.

» Background checks and immigration record checks are not being completed for all new employees.

» Too many case plans take longer than 60 days to develop.

» Too many placement changes are not documented within 72 hours.

» Workers are not meeting with all the children in their care every month.

As a result, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is requiring the private nonprofit to submit six corrective action plans. The plans, which must be approved by the state, detail how St. Francis plans to fix each concern.

However, in four of the six areas, St. Francis already was on a corrective action plan from the previous quarter, but had not corrected the problem. In a fifth area, workforce, the agency was required to develop a hiring plan in September, but made no progress in meeting state caseload limits between October and December.

Still, Matt Stephens, St. Francis’ vice president of programs, north, expressed confidence on Tuesday that the nonprofit can meet Nebraska’s standards.

“In partnership with (HHS), we have finalized five of the six corrective action plans, and are working on the sixth,” he said. “We expect the steps laid out in those plans to move us toward our goals. As always, the safety and wellbeing of children, teens and families are our priorities. We are pleased that we continue to keep children and teens safe in care.”

Stephens also pointed out that St. Francis exceeded the contract standards for preventing repeated abuse within 12 months, reducing the proportion of children who wind up in foster care again within a year, preventing abuse in foster care and keeping foster children in stable placements.

The corrective action plans were submitted in the first week of February, shortly after HHS officials inked a 25-month emergency contract with St. Francis that boosted payments by 55% over what the contractor had been getting. The $147.3 million contract ends Feb. 28, 2023, the month after Gov. Pete Ricketts is term limited out of office.

The new contract was signed late last month, after interim St. Francis CEO William Clark told state lawmakers that the agency was facing a shortfall and would be out of money to operate by Feb. 12, unless Nebraska agreed to pay more.

At the time, Dannette Smith, the HHS CEO, said the state agreed to the new contract “to maintain continuity of services” in the Omaha area. But she also promised increased state oversight, saying that department officials will be “persnickety” in making sure that St. Francis fulfills its obligations under the new contract and maintains financial stability.

St. Francis initially won a five-year contract to oversee child welfare case management in Douglas and Sarpy Counties in July 2019 by offering to do the job for $197 million. That was less than 60% of the bid from PromiseShip, the Omaha-based agency that had been managing cases. Transition of cases from PromiseShip to St. Francis began in October 2019 and was complete by January 2020.

Our best Omaha staff photos of February 2021


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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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