A new child welfare provider, St. Francis Ministries, began work this year helping vulnerable children in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. The transition added complications to what is by definition challenging and delicate work. A new state report identifies various concerns, and it’s vital that St. Francis address them. More than 4,000 children, often suffering from abuse or neglect, are depending on St. Francis to get this right.
The preeminent need: St. Francis must take strong action so its social workers stop exceeding the caseload maximum required by state law. Nebraska lawmakers set that cap many years ago to ensure that case managers wouldn’t become overloaded. In March, only 47% of St. Francis workers stayed under the cap. That was up from 39% in February and 40% in January, but the need for major improvement is clear.
Experience here and elsewhere shows that when staff members are overburdened, children and their families often face difficulties in receiving the help they need.
The concern over excessive caseloads for St. Francis, headquartered in Salina, Kansas, is a longstanding one, going back to when it first submitted its bid to the state last year. It’s imperative that the nonprofit fix this problem once and for all.
Among other challenges, identified by the state, that the provider must address:
» High worker turnover. No question, social work is a challenging field. Cases can involve difficult family situations, each with its own dynamics. But the turnover for St. Francis’ workforce is quite high, exceeding the national average. More than 40% of personnel turned over in each of the three months the state reviewed.
» Foster care beds. St. Francis’ contract requires two beds per foster child so there can be a variety of foster families available to meet children’s needs. St. Francis falls short of that requirement.
» Payment delays. The nonprofit has been late paying some of its subcontractors.
» Lack of innovation. One of the main reasons cited by the state for selecting St. Francis last year was that the nonprofit was better positioned to deliver innovative programming. New programming, focusing on prevention, is needed to implement federal law. So far, St. Francis is falling short, the state found.
St. Francis has years of experience in providing child welfare here and overseas. It won praise for much of its work enabling the recent transition. But the state findings point out key concerns. It’s imperative that St. Francis address them fully, to enable the best care possible for these children in need.