Matthew Wallen

The writer is the director of the Division of Children and Family Services in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The State of Nebraska recently signed an agreement with St. Francis Ministries to provide child welfare case management services in the Omaha area. The contract is designed to improve outcomes through evidence-based, trauma informed services that strengthen youth and families. It was finalized after a competitive bidding process in which the quality, cost and other key factors of each proposal were objectively scored, and St. Francis’ proposal scored highest.

In a recent Midlands View piece, attorney Kerry Winterer claims that having St. Francis assume child welfare case management services in Douglas and Sarpy Counties puts Nebraska children at risk.

He bases his opinion on the unsuccessful effort to privatize child welfare statewide 10 years ago, likening St. Francis’ proposed services to it. As former CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, Winterer oversaw the agency’s widely criticized management of the transition to privatization a decade ago. Moreover, Winterer is an attorney formerly employed by and associated with Kutak Rock, the law firm that currently represents our outgoing child welfare partner in its protest of the award.

The state learned from this experience over the last 10 years, and we need not repeat those mistakes. The failures of past leadership and lessons from that time informed the recent competitive process that resulted in a better contract and a new provider.

The selection was not motivated by financial considerations and was guided by a careful, thorough and impartial evaluation process.

Here’s what you should know about St. Francis and the contract:

  • Experience:
  • St. Francis has an established record of success, serving over 31,000 children and working in multiple states, including Nebraska. St. Francis currently provides kinship/foster care home and adoption homes, family support programs, intensive family preservation, intensive family reunification and family–centered treatment services to youth in the central and western service areas.
  • Caseloads:
  • State law requires a ratio of one caseworker for every 17 children in the foster care system. St. Francis’ contract clearly lays out how it plans to achieve the ratios prescribed in law.
  • Bid evaluation:
  • The state arrived at this agreement with St. Francis after an objective scoring process that involved numerous subject matter experts. St. Francis’ competitive scores in each of categories, not just cost, led to its successful bid.
  • Operational controls:
  • The state’s current provider came under criticism after an audit showed significant mismanagement of funds. Achieving a high level of service through contract and quality management is a key component of the new contract with St. Francis. Placement changes, caseloads, financial accountability and other key measures of success will be closely monitored and shared regularly under the agreement.

Our new partnership with St. Francis creates an opportunity to further strengthen families through a shared vision and strong collaboration designed to improve outcomes in the Omaha area.

Our new provider will focus on reunification and permanency and support families to keep them together. The Division of Children and Family Services has already realized successes reducing the number of children in out-of-home care and addressing challenges related to the care of youth who do enter the system.

St. Francis, in its proposal, committed to further developing a culture of inclusiveness, accessibility, respect and transparency through formal and informal involvement of the community and stakeholders. This parallels HHS’ vision for Nebraska families.

HHS has provisions in place, including a readiness review and ongoing contract oversight, to support Douglas and Sarpy County families and to ensure a smooth transition.

Our change in direction represents the result of the full and fair evaluation of all proposals to deliver child welfare services in the Omaha area. The agreement we have reached with St. Francis will deliver improved outcomes for the kids we serve, while following the contracting process laid out in law. This new partnership creates a bright future for our kids as we continue to help people live better lives across Nebraska.

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