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Child welfare bill package gets first-round unanimous approval in Nebraska Legislature

Posted at 7:06 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 20:06:38-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — An omnibus child welfare bill in the Nebraska Legislature received unanimous first-round approval on Friday.

The bill would end the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Service's option for contracting with a private organization as a lead agency for child welfare services.

Sen. John Arch, chair of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, told the Legislature Friday that the Legislature had allowed for a "pilot project" in 2012 in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. A committee recommended the move.

"As we saw with the transition from Promiseship to Saint Francis, contracts turning over can cause significant upheaval, and delay permanency for children and families," he said.

In December 2021, Nebraska and Saint Francis Ministries agreed to end the contract early. The transition away from Saint Francis began early this year. The contract has been clouded with issues since the bid that proved to be too low.

Learn more: 'The bid was bad': Leaders of St. Francis Ministries & DHHS testify under oath to Neb. Legislature

The legislation was originally included in L.B. 491, introduced by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh in 2021. It was incorporated into L.B. 1173.

Working group

The package also includes L.B. 1173, which would create a working group on child welfare reform in Nebraska through 2023, which would submit a "finance model framework" to the Health and Human Services Committee. It was introduced by Arch.

Child abuse communication bill

Also included in the legislative package is Sen. Jen Day's bill addressing some of the concerns of parents who sent children to Rosewood Academy. Parents said communication from both the daycare and DHHS was poor or non-existent when their children were the subject of child abuse investigations.

It would require the Children and Family Services Division of DHHS to immediately notify the Division of Public Health, also within DHHS, of situations of alleged child abuse or neglect by a childcare staff member.

That could help ensure that cases that don't rise to the level of child abuse could still be looked into by the division that licenses child care facilities, testified Katie Bass, a data and policy research adviser at First Five Nebraska, when the bill was heard.

Learn more: Parents of former Rosewood Academy students make case for childcare bill at hearing

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