Nebraska Appleseed attorneys sent a demand letter to state and foster care agencies officials Monday threatening a lawsuit, contending private contracts for child welfare case management in the Omaha area violate the Nebraska Constitution.
And the nonprofit advocacy organization wants to see child welfare case management in that area return to the state, as is the case in all other service areas, including the Lincoln and the southeast area.
"If the contracts are not stopped within the week, Appleseed will file suit seeking a court order to stop the contracts," said Sarah Helvey, director of the Appleseed child welfare program, and other attorneys Allison Derr and Robert McEwen.
Taylor Gage, a spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts, said the state does not comment on litigation threats.
The letter adds more debate to an already controversial change of contractor by the Department of Health and Human Services for the eastern service area.
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In July, the state finalized a child welfare contract with a Kansas-based company, Saint Francis Ministries, amid concerns by the current contractor, PromiseShip, and child welfare advocates, including Nebraska Appleseed. The $39.2 million annual contract will last five years, with an option for two additional years.
“Nebraska’s children and families deserve a stable child welfare system that is not subject to disruption on an ongoing basis," Helvey said in a news release. "The time for experimenting with the eastern service area has come to an end and it is time to return to a cohesive system of case management statewide.”
Helvey said Nebraska’s constitution provides protections against legislation that treats people in a similar situation differently. Continuing to use a system of private case management contracts that serve only two counties in the state, Douglas and Sarpy, violates that protection, she said.
She said ensuring all children and families are safe and healthy is a core value of the state.
"We hope that the agency officials and private organizations will come to the table to resolve this issue without the need for litigation," Helvey said. "However, we are fully prepared to go to court to defend the rights of Nebraska’s children and families and the tax dollars that have been supporting a disjointed system.”