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Friday, December 3, 2010

A quick note on privatization

There are those who feel that privatizing child protection services may be the direction to go - balancing costs with outcomes. An experience and subsequent review in the USA suggests otherwise. A story in the Omaha World-Herald (Nebraska) shows the perils:

"Published Dec 3, 2010
Published Friday December 3, 2010
Report blasts foster care reform
By Martha Stoddard

INCOLN — Shifting child welfare duties from state workers to private contractors has not improved the lives of Nebraska's foster children, a new report shows.

The shift made some conditions worse, produced no change in others and created several new concerns, according to the state Foster Care Review Board.

The board released a report on the state's child welfare reform effort Thursday, along with its annual report for 2009.

Carol Stitt, the board's executive director, said correcting the systems' problems is critical for children in foster care.

“These children don't have a do-over” for their lives, she said.

Todd Reckling, state director of children and family services, took issue strongly with the board's findings and its call to slow down the reform.

“We've said all along it's going to take some time to change,” he said. “We're seeing indicators we're moving in the right direction.”

The board's findings call into question the state's rationale for privatizing child welfare.

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services officials have said they are pursuing reform to improve the child welfare system.

They note that Nebraska has among the nation's highest rates of children removed from their homes, yet the state has fared poorly on federal evaluations of its child welfare system.

The reform so far, however, has not significantly reduced the number of children in out-of-home care, according to the reports.

The number of such children on Oct. 10 — nearly a year after reform began — was lower than on Dec. 31, 2008, but about the same as on Dec. 31, 2009.

Nor has reform altered the rate of children returning to foster care, the number of cases progressing toward resolution or the number of placements children endure in foster care.

Reckling, in defending the reforms, said that the Kansas-based KVC has had fewer than 1 percent of the children in its aftercare program return to foster care.

He also said the state currently meets three of six federal standards for child welfare.

“We have shared this information with the (board), but they seem to be looking backward while we are focused on improvements,” Reckling said.

The board responded with a statement saying the data in the reports speaks for itself.

“The efforts and funding spent defending the new system would be better used focusing on correcting the issues identified in today's report,” the statement said.

In November 2009, the state contracted with five private agencies to provide and coordinate all services for children and families in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Since then, three of the five agencies have lost or dropped their contracts.

In October, HHS officials announced plans to turn over more responsibilities to the private contractors, replacing state child welfare workers. The transfer is set for Jan. 3.

Many issues listed in the new board reports have appeared in previous years' reports.

Among problems worsened by the reform, Mario Scalora of Lincoln, vice chairman of the board, said the report found “significant gaps” in documentation of cases since the reform began.

Documentation is key to determining whether children are safe and getting needed services, whether parents are making appropriate changes and whether courts should reunify families or terminate parental rights.

“This is not just a paperwork issue. This is a safety issue,” Scalora said.

Among the new concerns is a 13 percent decline in licensed foster homes and a drop in the number of therapists and other service providers working with foster children and their families.

According to the report, pay for foster parents has dropped to an average of $600 per month, down from $725 per month before reform. Foster parents no longer receive clothing allowances or paid respite time..."

While there are certainly local issues here, the report helps us to see that reform for the sake of reform is not what children and families need. Effective, efficient and responsive services are needed but again we see budgets drive service - not needs.

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