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The state announced Tuesday it intends to replace the private contractor for child welfare services in Douglas and Sarpy counties with Kansas-based Saint Francis Ministries. 

The $39.2 million annual contract will last five years, with an option for two additional years, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release.

PromiseShip of Omaha, formerly Nebraska Families Collaborative, holds the current case management contract and was the only other bidder in the request for proposals process that started in January. 

Forty percent of child welfare cases in Nebraska are in the eastern service area. It is the only area remaining in Nebraska with a private contractor, which has been the case since the state privatized the child welfare system statewide in 2009. That caused disruption and dissension and was dismantled several years later. 

Saint Francis Ministries already provides child welfare services in central and western Nebraska, including kinship/foster care homes, adoption homes, family support programs, intensive family preservation and reunification, and family-centered treatment services to youth.

It is a child and family services nonprofit agency serving more than 31,000 people in Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, El Salvador and Honduras.

In an October news release in which it announced a rebranding from Saint Francis Community Services, the organization described itself as "rooted in the Episcopal faith, born of mission and breathed into life through action. We do more than pray, we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty, doing what needs to be done to transform lives and systems in ways others have thought impossible.”

Department CEO Dannette Smith said that based on the proposal, "we are confident Saint Francis will deliver high-quality case management and child protection services that strengthen families and build protective factors for Douglas and Sarpy County children." 

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HHS hired a New Hampshire-based business and government consulting agency, the Stephen Group, to analyze the effectiveness of current services and operations in Douglas and Sarpy counties and to assist in the development of the request for proposals.

The department considered bringing those child welfare services back to HHS, but the Stephen Group recommended continuing with privatized services, said Matt Wallen, Children and Family Services director.

PromiseShip will carry out its contract until Dec. 31. Last December, it had announced it would extend its contract for six months, from June 30 to Dec. 31, for $35.8 million, based on its current contract amount.

Ann Pedersen, communications director for PromiseShip, said that after 10 years of "achieving great progress in serving children and families," the company was "extremely disappointed" with the state's decision.

She said PromiseShip would work with HHS to help provide a seamless transition.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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