Illustration by NOISE.

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Thousands of Nebraska children have been placed in the care of Saint Francis Ministries (SFM) since 2019 since the Kansas based child welfare agency was awarded the contract for case management in the Omaha area. SFM grossly underbid the contract compared to the previous cost of providing services in this area. Trying to operate on an inadequate budget, SFM saddled caseworkers with more cases than is legally allowed in the state of Nebraska, and as a result caseworkers have been leaving in droves. Earlier this month several members of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and Saint Francis Ministries were subpoenaed and gave testimony under oath to the investigative committee formed by the legislature to look at how and why the contract was originally awarded to Saint Francis Ministries.

Several investigations have shown red flags were were within view of both the Nebraska government and SFM before the contract was signed. The evidence of such is coming more from the report of a private investigator in Kansas and Nebraska’s own Inspector General for Child Welfare, than from the executives and directors of SFM and DHHS now speaking under oath to the committee. These two reports reference documents often in contrast to the testimonies of officials from both the departments of Health and Human Services and Administrative Services— part of Governor Ricketts’ executive branch— as well as Saint Francis Ministries themselves. (The Department of Administrative Services (DAS) is responsible for awarding state contracts.)

While under oath and speaking on behalf of SFM, interim president and CEO Willian Clark insisted that while, in his words, “the bid was bad,” it was done without malice or ill intent. “The work to prepare the bid was not accurate. However, the contract was not maliciously underbid by Saint Francis,” he said. Clark was not made part of SFM leadership until the end of 2019 after the Nebraska contract had been signed. He testified at the hearing that there were simply “errors in judgment by past senior leadership of the organization.”

NOISE is an Omaha based Black-led news outlet focused on recapturing the narrative of Omaha’s historically Black communities and Black Nebraskans. Drawing from current events, history and direct feedback from our neighbors, we work to provide content relevant to people’s everyday lives that is just as nuanced as the people we represent.

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