LINCOLN — State officials said Wednesday they are turning over the last state-managed child welfare cases in the Omaha area to a private contractor.
The Nebraska Families Collaborative has signed a contract worth $30 million this year to take over the cases, said Kerry Winterer, CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The transition is expected to be completed by Oct. 15.
Some 1,160 children in about 620 families will be affected by the change. They account for about one-third of the children and families involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice system in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
Their cases have been handled by state workers since April 2010, when a former private contractor declared bankruptcy and abruptly ceased services.
"This brings us back to our original intent to contract for all case management in Douglas and Sarpy Counties," Winterer said.
He said that having some Omaha-area cases managed by the state and some by private contractors has been confusing. Judges have continued to look to state workers on cases that were the responsibility of private contractors.
The Nebraska Families Collaborative, based in Omaha, already handles about one-third of the cases in the area, or 1,216 children. The Kansas-based KVC handles about one-third.
"We look forward to helping more kids and families in our community," said David Newell, the collaborative's executive director.
Nebraska undertook a controversial effort to privatize its child welfare system in November 2009.
The state turned over to contractors the bulk of the duties for ensuring the safety and well-being of abused and neglected children.
Initially the contracts covered the entire state, but three of the five original contractors have since lost or dropped their contracts.
State workers resumed responsibility for cases in the central, western and northern areas of the state, as well as one-third of the cases in the eastern area.
Earlier this year, Gov. Dave Heineman promised to hold off signing any new contracts for services in the central, western and northern areas while the Legislature investigates the privatization initiative.
The investigation is looking at such issues as escalating costs of the contracts and growing instability within the system.
His directive, issued in March, did not address the children and families served by the state workers in the eastern service area.
Vicki Maca, administrator of the privatization effort for the state, said 35 state jobs will be eliminated as a result of the new contract.
She said the employees now holding those positions will have an opportunity to apply for jobs with the collaborative or for vacant state positions.
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