Does privatization of foster care work?

Nebraska’s child welfare system has been a focus of the press lately.  The reason?  They are in the process of privatizing parts of their child welfare system.  The effort to privatize state foster care systems has long been a topic of heavy debate.  Back in 1996, Kansas became the first state to privatize its foster care system.  Florida and Colorado soon followed suit with the goal of increasing the efficiency and accountability of child welfare services.  Other states, such as Michigan and Ohio have privatized parts of their system, such as adoptions.

An op ed was published in late September of last year in the Grand Island Independent which states, “The evidence continues to mount that Nebraska’s move to privatize the foster care system has been an utter failure. Day after day brings more evidence that the system is broken.”  The author cites inadequate funding, lack of communication between foster parents and agencies, and confusion about the process as some of problems.

In October, the Nebraska Foster Parent Review Board wrote a letter to state legislators to raise their concerns.  The letter cites “staff changes, payment delays to foster parents and service providers, documentation issues, difficulties accessing services, visitation supervision issues and delayed permanency.  Based on 340 case reviews conducted by the Board in September of 2010, 34.7 percent lacked home study documentation; 30.6 percent lacked immunization records; 29.4 percent lacked placement reports; and 27.6 percent lacked visitation or other such reports.”

In November, Governor Dave Heineman responded to the many statements, stories, and reports on the topic saying, “I hope everybody realizes what we’ve been doing in the last 40 years hasn’t worked,” Heineman said of child welfare and foster care. “Nebraska has one of the largest percentages of out-of-home placements in America.  […] What is best for the kids is in-home placements, not institutional care.  […]  The idea of reform is to change the system so a large majority of children and families are getting services in their homes, and a minority are being removed from their homes and put in out-of-home placements. The state has opted for a public-private partnership to do that.  […]  The government’s not a very good parent.  I think we have to involve the private sector, nonprofits, charities and others in this effort.  […] It’s real easy to sit there and say, ‘I don’t like the direction this is going,’ but I don’t hear a lot of solutions …”

State legislators are weighing in on this move, saying that there is not enough legislative oversight to the process.  With pressure from constituents wanting to know, “Is it adequately funded? How much private money is being invested? Is it sustainable? And do senators need to address any public policy issues regarding child welfare?”.  The encouraging news is that state legislators are taking action.

Just this month, a state Senator from Lincoln, Sen. Kathy Campbell, who was newly elected to lead the Health and Human Services Committee announced a resolution will be introduced that “would allow the committee to review and evaluate how child welfare reform has been conducted since its beginning, and report to the Legislature.”

Photo credit: FRANCIS GARDLER / Lincoln Journal Star

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The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of children around the world in need of permanent, safe, and loving homes and to eliminating the barriers that hinder these children from realizing their basic right of a family.

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