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Mon Sep 9, 2019, 04:00 AM

Nebraska Appleseed files lawsuit seeking stability for Nebraska's child welfare system

LINCOLN – Today, Nebraska Appleseed filed a lawsuit in Lancaster County District Court on behalf of a child welfare advocate seeking to return child welfare case management in the Eastern Service Area to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The suit alleges that the current private contracts violate the Nebraska Constitution and follows a demand letter sent last week to DHHS, the Department of Administrative Services, PromiseShip, and Saint Francis Ministries.

“Nebraska’s children and families deserve a strong and stable child welfare system, regardless of where they live in the state. DHHS, as the legal parent of children in foster care, has the fundamental responsibility to provide equal access to care, treatment, and services to children across the state,” said Sarah Helvey, Director of Appleseed’s Child Welfare Program.

In 2009, DHHS attempted to privatize all child welfare case management services statewide, ending with significant disruption to the system when all but one of the private entities withdrew or were terminated from their contracts. In response, in 2012, the Nebraska Legislature forbid privatization in the state, but carved out an exception permitting the remaining contract in the Eastern Service Area, held by PromiseShip, to continue as a “pilot” project with ongoing evaluations and legislative oversight. In June, DHHS awarded the contract to an out-of-state entity, Saint Francis Ministries.

The lawsuit alleges this approach violates the Nebraska Constitution’s “special legislation” clause, which protects against legislation that treats Nebraskans in similar situations differently. This lawsuit asks the court to require the defendants to stop spending public funds on all active and future contracts, with the effect of returning child welfare case management responsibilities in Douglas and Sarpy counties to DHHS, which is currently managing the system in the 91 other counties.

Read more: https://neappleseed.org/blog/28215

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