To privatize, or not to privatize – that isn’t the question.
Hopefully Shakespeare will forgive us for misusing his famous soliloquy, but we couldn’t come up with a better way to summarize our reaction to recent coverage of the ongoing controversy surrounding Nebraska’s child welfare and juvenile services reform effort.
Over the past two weeks, a damaging fiscal audit and continued concerns about children and families seem to have been boiled down to a single question: whether or not Nebraska should “stay the course” when it comes to privatization. Governor Heineman came out in full support of privatization and was quoted in the Lincoln Journal Star saying, “”I think we have the right idea, but we’ve got to execute it better.”On the other hand, several state Senators have called for the state to resume full control of the system (see the Omaha World-Herald). The choice offered seems to be a return to the “old system” which Governor Heineman rightly categorized as broken, and continuing on the same path, which in our estimation, is equally broken.
It really comes down to this: privatizing a system is not the same as reforming it. Our current “reform” hasn’t fixed any of Nebraska’s long standing issues with high removal rates or lack of services; it hasn’t made our child welfare and juvenile services system more effective or child and family-centered.
So, how do we really reform the child welfare and juvenile services system? That will require Nebraska’s leadership to focus less on who delivers services and more on what services are being delivered and how. It will require a focus on looking at how we can prevent child abuse and neglect in the first place and how we can support families and children.
With more hearings and reports to come, we needs to make fulfilling the needs of Nebraska’s vulnerable children and families the central focus of debate, research, and charting a course forward.