Funding, accountability and data: Those are the three main concerns stakeholders have regarding child welfare privatization in Nebraska, representatives said at a press conference Wednesday at the Lincoln downtown YWCA. The event was hosted by Voices for Children in Nebraska and Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest. The reform “shows no evidence of succeeding or being sustainable,” according to a letter addressed to Gov. Dave Heineman and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and signed by more than 800 individuals and organizations, including CASA, Family Advocacy Movement, Foster Care Review Board, Nebraska Appleseed, Voices for Children and the Nebraska chapters of the National Association of Social Workers and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Representatives at the press conference, including Lancaster County Attorney Gary Lacey and Gale Jungemann-Schultz with the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, pointed to numerous problems with the current system, such as high employee turnover, lack of training and “lip service” and “bullying” from the state government. Since the state privatized child welfare about a year ago, four of six original contractors have dropped out because of funding issues. On Oct. 15, the state announced it would shed numerous state employee case managers, turning over their duties in the eastern and southeastern service areas to private contractors. Stakeholders called for the state to halt this transfer until it had formally evaluated the current reform. “Our concern is that we don’t have good strong evidence to support” the idea that the new plan would be successful, said Sarah Helvey, staff attorney and director of the child welfare program for Nebraska Appleseed, adding that “with the system so volatile, if you eliminate the safety net of the state caseworkers, we have no back-up plan if one of the remaining agencies is unable to continue.” Voices for Children in Nebraska Executive Director Kathy Bigsby Moore agreed. “No one … thought the foster care system was perfect before the reform began,” Moore said. “In fact, we thought some elements of the reform [were excellent]. But we need time” for training, evaluation and pilot programs before any more changes are instituted. “We can’t afford to experiment on our children,” she said.

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