State has chance for real CWS reform

Friday, December 16, 2011

Privatizing government services may be a good idea in some instances -- garbage collection and the space program are two functions that come to mind -- but others haven't worked out so well.

We're seeing the results of making the postal service an independent agency -- service to rural, less "profitable" areas is being eliminated or delayed.

A report on another failed effort came out Thursday, with a final report by the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee on the move to privatize Nebraska's child welfare services.

It recommends abandoning the effort and returning the management to state workers by July 1, 2012.

A foreshadowing came in early November, when the Legislature's performance Audit Committee pointed out a number of problems with the way the state had proceeded.

The most important, according to the report, was failure to do a cost-benefit analysis.

That was a "well, duh" moment.

The main reason to privatize a government function is to reduce cost and increase efficiency. The fact that no one did a study to see if that would, in fact, happen, shows that decision-makers had their minds made up, regardless of the facts.

Reducing the number of state employees, a laudable goal in some instances, was more likely the real goal rather than improving service to the state's most vulnerable citizens.

The state turned over services for children and families in the child welfare and juvenile justice system starting in November 2009.

Since then, three of the five agencies have dropped out because of financial and management issues. The audit found that the switch to private contractors had actually increased state spending by 27 percent, but did not significantly reduce the number of children removed from their families or improve the state's performance on federal child welfare standards.

It's clear that system is broken, as the audit pointed out.

Thursday's report called for:

* Returning the management of child welfare cases to state workers by July 1, 2012.

* Establishing a new Department of Children's Services by July 1, 2013, pulling together services from several agencies.

* Setting up a Nebraska Children's Commission to develop plans for child welfare reform and advise the rest of the Nebraska government.

The state and Legislature need to take this opportunity to take the time to get the system right and make real, long-term improvements to efficiency and effectiveness of child welfare services.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: