LINCOLN — St. Francis Ministries of Kansas took over its first Omaha-area child welfare cases and their current case managers this week.

In a briefing for state lawmakers, officials said about 300 cases had been moved from the Omaha-based PromiseShip to the Salina, Kansas, nonprofit, along with 20 case managers since Monday.

The officials told members of the Health and Human Services Committee that they plan to continue transferring cases of abused and neglected children along with their case managers through the end of November. The transition is to be complete by Dec. 31, when the state’s contract with PromiseShip expires.

Ron Zychowski, president and CEO of PromiseShip, said the process will leave only about 150 cases by December that will need to be picked up by new caseworkers. He called that “a significant positive in any transition in child welfare.”

“It’s the company that changes, not the actual worker,” said Jodie Austin, St. Francis’ Nebraska regional vice president. She said St. Francis ultimately expects to employ 96 case managers and a number of case management supervisors who have been working for PromiseShip.

The state’s contract with St. Francis for managing child welfare cases in Douglas and Sarpy Counties also changed, according to Dannette Smith, CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS signed the original contract on July 3. It was set to take effect Jan. 1. The $197 million, five-year contract was awarded through a public bidding process in which PromiseShip, the state’s longtime child welfare case management contractor, was the only other bidder. St. Francis’ bid was less than 60% of the $341 million bid from PromiseShip.

But state officials last month started pushing for case transfers to start earlier, to provide a gradual changeover and avoid potential setbacks and disruption of services for children and families.

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A contract amendment signed this week will allow St. Francis to earn up to $29.5 million during the first year of its new contract, up from the $18 million first-year cap allowed in the original contract. Both the original and the amendment allow about $1 million in startup costs.

The additional cost may be offset to some degree because the state will have to pay PromiseShip for fewer cases than anticipated.

St. Francis, formerly known as St. Francis Community Services, is affiliated with the Episcopal Church and has subsidiaries in Nebraska and six other states, plus two Central American countries.

PromiseShip, formerly the Nebraska Families Collaborative, was formed by Boys Town and other private Omaha-area child welfare agencies a decade ago, when the state first sought bids from private entities to manage child welfare cases.

The nonprofit has held the contract to manage metro-area child welfare cases ever since, starting with about one-third of area cases and growing as other agencies quit or lost their contracts. PromiseShip is the only survivor of the state’s disastrous attempt to privatize case management statewide.

PromiseShip challenged the state’s decision to award the new contract to St. Francis. But a judge last week refused PromiseShip’s request for a temporary injunction to stop the transition. Zychowski said Friday that PromiseShip has not decided whether to pursue the case.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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