The state auditor released a fiscal audit today, as part of a legislative interim study assessing Nebraska’s recent child welfare reform initiative, LR 37. The fiscal audit obtained financial records from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the current lead contractors, KVC and the Nebraska Families Collaborative (NFC), as well as lead contractors that had to withdraw from their contracts in 2010, mostly due to financial difficulties – Visinet, Cedars, and Boys and Girls Home.
Nebraska’s child welfare system serves our most vulnerable children and families at times of crisis. It is charged with keeping children safe and providing services so that children can quickly and safely return home, or find a loving home with a guardian or adoptive family. For years, Voices for Children in Nebraska has publically expressed concern that our system has failed to do its job well. DHHS especially has suffered from a lack of leadership, transparency, and accountability, which ultimately hurts kids. “While, the results of this audit are not wholly surprising to system stakeholders and child advocates, they are deeply upsetting,” said Carolyn Rooker, Executive Director of Voices for Children in Nebraska. “Transferring an already broken, mismanaged system to the private sector hasn’t fixed anything. We have approximately the same number of state wards in out-of-home care as we did at the beginning of the privatization effort. Instead of carefully investing more dollars in building a complete system of care and prevention services, DHHS has chosen to throw in dollars without planning or adequate oversight of lead contractors.”
“Going forward, it is Governor Heineman’s responsibility to ensure DHHS effectively serves our vulnerable children and families who have already waited too long for meaningful reform. Children and families don’t have time to wait another few years while DHHS hunts blindly for the magic bullet that they think will fix our system.”
Voices for Children is glad that the Legislature has taken the time to fully assess how our state’s child welfare dollars have been spent over the course of privatization. We are hopeful that this will be the first step in delivering necessary reforms to ensure children and families get the help they need. The fiscal found that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) increased its child welfare spending by 27 percent, almost $30 million, between 2009 and 2011. Rather than a thoughtful spending and reform plan, the additional expenditures were given to lead agencies as part of a series of contract amendments. No documentation about rationale or costs of services was available to auditors. In fact the audit also found that Nebraska’s three most rural service areas, did not benefit from the infusion of additional dollars. $28 million in services delivered to children and families was also lacking documentation. A clear understanding and wise use of resources will be a key to meaningful reform going forward.
For more on the audit, visit the Auditor’s website. http://www.auditors.state.ne.us/
For the DHHS response to the audit: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/Children_Family_Services/FamiliesMatter/docs/ResponseToAPA.pdf