DHHS Holding Town Hall Meetings on Child Welfare Changes

By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services will hold town hall meetings today and again next week to discuss the future of child welfare and case management services in the metropolitan area.

State officials signed a contract with a new provider, Saint Francis Ministries, earlier this month, but that decision was contested – and is now the subject of litigation – by PromiseShip, the current provider serving child welfare cases in Douglas and Sarpy counties.

“We know people have questions regarding the future of case management services in Douglas and Sarpy counties,” Matt Wallen, director of the DHHS Division of Children and Family Services, said in a news release. “We want to be responsive and transparent as we move into a bright new era of supporting families, protecting children and improving outcomes.”

The meetings will feature a presentation by DHHS officials and an opportunity for questions.

Town hall sessions will be held today, July 30, at Omaha North High School’s Viking Center at 4410 N. 36th St. from 3 to 5 p.m. and again from 6 to 8 p.m. A second meeting will be Wednesday, Aug. 7, at the Salvation Army Kroc Center at 2825 Y St., from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m.

Representatives of Saint Francis Ministries will join DHHS at both session of the two meetings.

Wallen said the new child welfare contract for the Eastern Service Area, which spans Douglas and Sarpy counties, focuses on innovation, collaboration and keeping families together.

“These town hall meetings are vital in strengthening partnerships with the community and allowing us to share why we are excited about the future of child welfare in the Eastern Service Area,” Wallen said in the release.

PromiseShip argues that DHHS should not have entered into the $196 million contract with Kansas-based Saint Francis.

It claims the organization underbid the cost to provide adequate staffing and failed to provide information that was necessary for the state to review prior to making a decision.

The Omaha nonprofit announced July 15 that it filed a taxpayer lawsuit in conjunction with Kathy Bigsby Moore, the founding executive director of Voices for Children in Nebraska.

“Having cared and advocated for abused and neglected children for more than 40 years, I could not stand silently by and watch the state of Nebraska enter into such an unlawful, unethical and inadequately funded contract,” Bigsby Moore said in a PromiseShip news release. “If this contract is allowed to go into effect, the very children the state is mandated to protect will be placed at unnecessary risk of further trauma, neglect and uncertainty.”

Information on the transition is available on the DHHS website at www.dhhs.ne.gov/ESAtransition.

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