LINCOLN — Nebraska's efforts to overhaul its child welfare system are stabilizing, but challenges remain.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently agreed to a new contract with the Nebraska Families Collaborative in Omaha. Under it, the Nebraska Families Collaborative will receive $350,000 more each year. That should help it break even while handling 40 percent of the child welfare cases in the state.
After the state began transferring control of child and family services to private contractors in 2009, it lost most contractors over low state payment rates.
Kerry Winterer, chief executive officer of HHS, said the system is improving. And the number of state wards has declined from about 6,000 last year to 5,350.
Vicki Maca, deputy director of the division of children and family services, said the reports she has seen are encouraging.
Maca said the state has implemented a structured system to guide decisions on children's safety when they are in state care. Every case is now assessed about every 90 days and the decisions are documented, which was sometimes a concern in the past.
About 94 percent of all the kids in state care meet with a case manager in person every month.
“That's really positive for the state of Nebraska and for the families in Nebraska,” she said.
But the child welfare system still faces challenges. It could lose some funding because Medicaid eligibility rules have changed. Previously, state wards automatically qualified for Medicaid, but now family income will be considered.
“We haven't seen a huge impact on that yet, but we're worried that there could be one over time,” said Dave Newell, president and CEO of the Nebraska Families Collaborative.
Newell is concerned about the disproportionate number of minority children in the system: “In Omaha, I would say we still have too many kids coming into the system, and of the kids who are coming in, too many are of color. So we've got to find other ways of serving those kids so they don't necessarily have to come into the child welfare system.”
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