Nebraska has ended a 12-year experiment in using private foster care in the state after Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) signed Legislative Bill 1173 last week.
As a result, social workers with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services will now oversee child welfare services for two counties in the Omaha area. The bill comes after a state investigation found numerous problems in the way private contractor Saint Francis Ministries managed child abuse and neglect cases there.
A September 2021 report by Inspector General of Child Welfare Jennifer Carter revealed widespread issues with the Omaha-based nonprofit organization, including high caseloads, failures to visit children placed into foster care and delays in providing case plans and other documentation to the court.
In December, Nebraska terminated its contract with Saint Francis, though the agency remains the state’s child placement agency.
LB 1173 repealed the law that allowed private foster care providers to offer case-management services on a pilot project basis. In 2009, Nebraska launched the effort to privatize its child welfare system. However, just a few years later, all but one of the providers were unable to fulfill their contracts. The one remaining contract was for Douglas and Sarpy Counties, which include metropolitan Omaha. In 2019, the Lincoln-based nonprofit Nebraska Appleseed sued the state and two nonprofits to halt the use of private foster care there.
Earlier this month, the organization’s leader celebrated the new law.
“LB 1173 recognizes Nebraska’s tumultuous and harmful history with privatization and that children and human services should never be for profit,” Nebraska Appleseed Child Welfare Director Sarah Helvey said in a statement. “This legislation brings a monumental and positive shift in our child welfare system, providing more equality, services, and protections.”
In addition to ending the state’s foray into privatized foster care, LB 1173 also requires Nebraska to notify youth and their attorneys when the state receives their Supplemental Security Income benefits and increases access to in-home intensive mental health services.