An official state watchdog says Nebraska should cancel the remaining three years of its contract with child welfare case management provider Saint Francis Ministries and consider dropping its decade-long experiment with privatized case management services.
In a special report to the state Legislature issued Sept. 23, the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare noted Saint Francis’ diligent efforts to protect children in the state’s foster care system and its effort to correct weaknesses that cropped up since the contract was fully implemented in January 2020.
“Concerns about Saint Francis’ performance under the terms of the contract surfaced early in the process and have continued to increase over time,” the report said.
It noted that Saint Francis failed to meet an array of contractual obligations. Saint Francis did not complete children’s case plans within 60 days, document placement changes in the state’s case management system within 72 hours, meet judicial expectations, properly check out the immigration status of prospective hires, complete employee background checks, meet legal caseload goals and conduct monthly face-to-face visits with children and families as required, the report said.
The report also noted concern about Saint Francis’ financial stability and the risk to its Child Placing Agency license. If the agency were to fail financially and break its contract, the state would be left to manage children’s cases without the skills and resources to do so properly.
Because of the failure to meet several contractual obligations for nearly two years, the Inspector General’s Office recommended that the state Department of Health and Human Services terminate the contract. The report also said that the state’s 12-year pilot project in the Eastern Service Area (which includes Omaha) to outsource case management has led to plenty of data, “all of which suggests that the privatization of case management has not delivered the intended benefits” and should be abandoned.
“DHHS should look for new ways, outside of privatized case management, to partner with private providers and other stakeholders in the child welfare system to work towards the common goal of protecting children and supporting families,” the report said.
Saint Francis has about three years left on its $197 million, five-year contract with Health and Human Services.
Dannette Smith, who heads Health and Human Services, initially wrote that she had “no comment” about the watchdog’s recommendations, according to the Omaha World-Herald. But state law requires the agency to accept, reject or request a modification of the report within about three weeks, so Smith changed her response to a rejection.
A department spokesperson said it continues to work with Kansas-based Saint Francis Ministries to serve the state’s children and families.
In a written response, William Clark, interim president and CEO of Saint Francis Ministries, also rejected both recommendations in a 10-page response to the report’s findings. Clark said children in the system are objectively better off since private agencies took over case management from state employees and noted that caseloads have been difficult to manage because the pandemic has made it harder to hire workers.
State Sen. John Arch of La Vista, who chairs a special legislative committee looking into the Saint Francis contract, declined to comment on the recommendations Thursday, according to the World-Herald. His committee’s report is due Dec. 15.