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September 15, 2011


Governor on HHS child welfare audit: “This is going to be fixed”

by Deena Winter

Gov. Dave Heineman has finally said something regarding the scathing state audit of his department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to reform child welfare in Nebraska.

Gov. Dave Heineman

He chose KLIN’s “Drive Time Lincoln” as the venue for his reaction, telling host Coby Mach, “This is going to be fixed.”

He said it’s about children and families and so, “We have to.” However, he said the state will continue to plow forward with partial privatization of the child welfare system, despite State Auditor Mike Foley’s audit, which was critical of the reform, which has increased costs 27 percent. He said Nebraska won’t return to the “failed policies of the last decade.”

“Nobody wants to go back to the old system,” Heineman said, even though he acknowledged that it “hasn’t gone as well as we wanted.”

The governor said he has met with Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly, HHS head Kerry Winterer and the lead Kansas-based contractor, KVC, about the audit but said the it’s not just about the state department, but also courts, law enforcement and providers. He said he asked Kelly for suggestions as to how to improve the system and knows “we need more contacts” with KVC. He also said he was disappointed in some of the private contractors, specifically the Boys and Girls Home’s failure to pay subcontractors.

But he also characterized the problems as inherent in making cultural changes. Heineman declined to address some of the specific problems cited in the audit, such as underqualified employees. He said he won’t micromanage HHS and will let the department head deal with those issues.

Asked about the flap over the fact that the governor received the report after the media, Heineman said he didn’t want to rehash that issue — and then did so anyway, saying his office is only 50 feet from Foley’s and he’s surprised Foley didn’t call him or his chief of staff if he was having problems getting cooperation from HHS in the audit.

“But I don’t want to go there,” Heineman said.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. JoAnn
    Sep 15 2011

    I guess I don’t understand the governor’s idea of “micro management.” At what point does the situation get critical enough for his intervention? Not only is there lots of evidence of poor management by HHS but also a 27% increase in budget expenses seems pretty significant; in fact, it appears that there definitely needs someone with HHS management skills to step up and hold folks accountable. It’s obvious that cannot be the governor. What more needs to happen before the governor would feel he should get involved. Perhaps, he simply does not feel comfortable confronting issues and personnel “head on” — even when facts are presented indicating a very bad mess with the system. It seems as though he thinks the idea of “privatization” will relieve him of some of those responsibilities. In the mean time, children and foster care families will suffer the consequences. While Joe Kelly may have some experience dealing with troubled youth, I very much doubt that he fully understands enough about how HHS should be working – in all aspects of foster care to be asked for suggestions as to how to improve the system. He is not an expert. Isn’t this just passing the buck? Families and foster care providers have been giving their input with little real change coming their way. Surely there are others within our state and neighboring states that have expertise in this area — if the governor really wants to find solutions to this mess. Part of the problem is that he is very late in responding to problems here at HHS as well as the with the pipe line issue. There seems to be a trend here.

  2. Jane H Kinsey
    Sep 16 2011

    HHS had been a mess ever since I moved to Lincoln in 1969. There is too much emphasis on
    keeping families together when parental rights need to be terminated if the parents don’t shape up in a year. This is the way other states handle the problem. Many of the caseworkers are not qualified, licensed social workers and don’t have the expertise to manage cases, work with courts and legal officers or keep records. JoAnn is right that Joe Kelly doesn’t have the expertise for Heineman and, besides, he is only a Lancaster County Attorney. What about the other county attorneys in Nebraska? Heineman really doesn’t know how to deal with it.
    Kudos for Tom Foley for being a watchdog of the taxpayers money.

  3. sharon kromarek
    Sep 18 2011

    Helping with these problems is the responsibility of all citizens and part of the soluation is early intervention, when we see or even suspect abuse in our neighborhood or families we need a quick and immediate intervention before the child has been abused, neglected, and exploited beyond repair. Too many of us are reluctant to get invoved, and when we do we often find no response from the “system”. I’ve been told that there needs to be more reports or that there isn’t enough evidence, yet I have known of cases where several people have reported seeing the abuse and the child is still living in these horrid circumstances. What is the problem? Political? Too much red tape? Overworked employees, lazy employees, I don’t know but I do know we have a hugh problems with these “orphans” being bounced from one institution to another until they are 18, then they are turned out unto the streets and expected to lead productive lives. How bright is that? Do we really think that these battered kids are going to care about others when they haven’t really had anyone to attach to? We need more people to step up to the plate and become foster parents, and the lawmakers to figure out a way to make it easier to become a foster parent, and along with early intervention, a social service system that is willing to befriend, provide training and assistance, even respite care to assist the many good parents that are willing to step up. Instead there is often red tape and a superior attitude, this should be a community involvement, The homes need to be have more “unannounced” visits and again neighbors need to report what they see. There are many good parents that might do this if they knew the social worker was willing to be that friend and offer them encouragement. That Degree does not make a good parent, it is either in a person or it isn’t, some people just need a little help, not a college education.


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