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Testimony at investigative hearing shows foster care caseworkers are 'undertrained, overworked'

Posted at 7:06 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 20:06:47-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — As the Nebraska Legislature continues to investigate Saint Francis Ministries, the troubled child welfare provider for Douglas and Sarpy counties, it has become apparent that caseworkers are overworked and understaffed.

This information comes out of a legislative hearing from the special committee investigating how Saint Francis Ministries got their original contract and the care they’ve given since taking over.

Two years ago, the state of Nebraska chose Saint Francis Ministries to handle child welfare services for Douglas and Sarpy counties.

At the time the state saved money in the deal, but almost immediately Saint Francis Ministries became close to bankruptcy, and the state was forced to broker an emergency deal.

In that emergency deal, they agreed to pay Saint Francis Ministries $2 million more a month to handle child welfare in Douglas and Sarpy counties.

Many at the hearing Tuesday said the service is poor.

“Unfortunately we now have a high budget option with low service standards,” said Kim Thomas, Executive Director of CASA for Douglas County.

Senators seeking investigation of St. Francis Ministries

In the hearing investigating Saint Francis Ministries, they said caseworkers, who personally deal with individual children and families, have double the caseload than stipulated in the contract.

This has caused families to be stuck with multiple foster care children, with little to no support from the state.

“It is our opinion that no entity can be successful in this contract,” said Thomas.

This has caused a high turnover that has led to families with numerous case managers, as many as nine total, prolonging the time they’re in the foster care system.

Dr. Suzanne Haney, who runs the foster care program at Children's Hospital and Medical Center, says she routinely cannot get a hold of caseworkers and has heard of repeated mistakes that caseworkers have made.

“Caseworkers are undertrained, overworked, and under-supported,” said Haney.

Along with being overwhelmed, Lynn Castriano, who previously worked for Promiseship, who previously held the contract and Saint Francis took over for, says the short-term two-year contract is also causing some to leave.

“They’re leaving in droves, and the reason could be many, but one reason is there’s no stability in that contract,” said Castriano.

Others called out Saint Francis Ministries specifically, Kim Thomas with CASA, who said the non-profit has a small, out of touch and inaccessible board running the operation, while also saying they fought CASA employees from being in the room when a young baby was dying.

“Our job was to hold this young baby, but we learned that multiple St. Francis staff were in that meeting contesting our presence to give this child some end-of-life care,” said Thomas.

“I think when you see things like this, it’s hard for them to not impact you.”

The contract with Saint Francis Ministries is over in 17 months and some said it's time for the state to start planning now for what to do next, whether they again hire a private company, have the state run the program like what happens in the rest of Nebraska, or some type of hybrid model.

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