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Changes in Nebraska's child welfare system leadership raises concerns

Posted at 6:41 PM, Aug 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-07 19:41:14-04

OMAHA, Neb. — The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is making big changes as to who oversees foster care and child welfare management in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. PromiseShip, based out of Nebraska, has held that role for the past ten years.

"There's an enormous amount of progress that has happened both here in the eastern service area and throughout the state of Nebraska. I think we can all be proud of those," President and CEO of PromiseShip Ron Zychowski said.

But after the ten years a new contractor, Saint Francis Ministries based out of Kansas, proposed a bid. That bid was chosen over PromiseShip's.

" We were very surprised to see the difference in the two cost proposals. Given the fact that we've been doing this for ten years and we have a pretty good idea of what it costs," Zychowski said.

PromiseShip offered to do the job for $341 million over the course of five years. Meanwhile Saint Francis Ministries offered to do it for $197 million. A 60 percent difference in bids. Promiseship is not sure how Saint Franics will do the work efficiently under these circumstances.

"The only way you make this happen and the only way you don't run a huge deficit is that you're going to have to reduce services to kids and families," Zychowski said.

However, the new contractor is confident that even with the smaller budget, they will excel in their services.

"I wasn't involved in the selection process. We put forward a bid and that bid was accepted and our work going forward is to do everything to meet the requirements that were in the contract that we signed and to fulfill any of the state statutory requirements that are contained in that," CEO and President of Saint Francis Ministries Tom Blythe said.

"My fear is nobody could do a good job with that kind of budget," Heather Duhachek-Chase said.

Heather works in human services. Her fears are that the new bid will cut salaries for workers and limit resources and programs.

"I haven't heard anybody that I know, and I know a lot of people in the human service field, that have felt like they could do it on this budget," she said.

"Case workers will be under the same guidelines as in previous contracts. PromiseShip and even those prior, as well as state employees, of that 12 to 17 caseload. So that criteria doesn't change," Diane Carver, the Vice President of children and family services at Saint Francis, said.

Just recently our news partners at the Omaha World Herald reported that after Saint Francis' initial bid, they asked for $15 million more, to comply with Nebraska's caseload limits. The state denied their request. Saint Francis says the request was hypothetical and that they can still provide all services.

"There were questions around if we were to have to change up a model, what would that look like? That was what our estimate of adding additional people, if we were to change the model, would look like," Blythe said.

Then comes into question St. Francis' previous work in Kansas. There are allegations of children sleeping on office floors and not getting enough resources.

"The Nebraska delivery of service is much different than the Kansas delivery of service. So you can't compare the two," Carver said.

"So the state of Kansas during the brown back years went through a very significant period of cost reduction. And unfortunately, those costs cut across all of the different agencies, DCF was one," Blythe said.

They assure their work here will be up to standards and people will be satisfied with the results.

"So our work will be around keeping kids safe and meeting those performance measures," Blythe said.