Foster care agencies and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services had to scramble Thursday night to find alternate placements for nine youths at a Lincoln Visinet shelter.

Five of those kids ended up at the Lancaster County Youth Services Center, according to center director Sheli Schindler.

HHS is working to have as little disruption as possible for foster families and children in their care after Visinet notified employees it was shutting down all foster care related services at midnight Thursday. But some disruption has been inevitable.

According to a Visinet shelter worker who did not want to be named, employees and the youths knew nothing about what was going on when HHS employees showed up to pick up the kids and move them elsewhere.

The worker said it was a fairly traumatic experience for some of the kids; one in particular got upset when told he was going to a "staff secured facility," thinking he was being taken to "jail," the worker said.

Lincoln police were called to the shelter shortly before 9 p.m. on a report that a 15-year-old was kicking, screaming and yelling. Police were there about a half hour, according to Capt. Anthony Butler.

The kids were just scared, the worker said. The youths who were on medications did not get them on time. Parents were calling and workers did not know what to tell them.

The five youths were still at the detention center Friday afternoon, under staff supervision, but not secured detention, Schindler said. Two of the youths were expected to be moved by Friday night.

Some of the youths who had been at the Visinet shelter went to temporary foster homes, said Todd Reckling, director of the HHS Division of Children and Family Services. The state is looking for longer-term placements for them.

HHS is temporarily taking over service coordination for about 1,100 Visinet families and about 2,000 children in the Lincoln and Omaha service areas, and wants to keep state wards in their homes or in their foster placements, Reckling said.

Ultimately, families in the southeast service area likely will be assigned to one provider, Reckling said.

Cedars gave the state notice April 1 it was pulling out of its contract to be a lead agency in child welfare reform.

HHS CEO Kerry Winterer said some may believe the system is in chaos with the Visinet bankruptcy and shutdown, but it is not. For families, any changes are actually "pretty minimal."

Families will get their payments, he said.

Reckling and Winterer stressed the state's child welfare reform effort is so new and still a work in progress.

"We're seeing what works and what needs to change," Winterer said.

Still, some child advocates are concerned about the ripple effect of what is happening with two agencies pulling out.

Kathy Bigsby Moore, executive director of Voices for Children in Nebraska, said it is unknown how many subcontractors are owed money by Visinet, and whether they would be affected financially by Visinet's bankruptcy.

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The agency's bankruptcy filing showed Visinet had 100 to 199 creditors. The agency also indicated funds would be available for distribution to creditors.

Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, director of KVC Nebraska, said her agency is ramping up to accept more foster families and children.

On Thursday, KVC had 639 foster families and 871 children assigned to the agency. That number will triple in July, she said.

KVC has been interviewing Visinet staff, made some employment offers Thursday and was to make more on Friday, she said. There will be more interviews next week.

The agency also has interviewed 50 Cedars staff members for employment when the Cedars contract expires June 30.

"We're trying to meet the needs of the staff because they meet the needs of the children and families," she said.

Gasca-Gonzalez said KVC has a strong financial commitment to Nebraska reform and is prepared to lose money until it can get to a break-even financial situation, probably in three to four years.

KVC has spent 13 years working in foster care reform, she said, and has the right service delivery and practice model in place.

"We planned for this," she said.

Reach JoAnne Young at 473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com.

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