Where’s the Money Going?

March 27, 2012 at 11:30am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’m having some troubles understanding a few things about Nebraska’s child welfare system. Perhaps you can help me out.

Thanks to a series of failures while attempting to privatize the system, most case management duties have returned to HHS. As a result, HHS has recently moved millions of new dollars over to child welfare reform. In addition, HHS has asked for millions more in the next budget. So the amount of money going to HHS for child welfare is up substantially.

At the same time, HHS is slashing payments and services to foster care agencies (KVC, Cedars, Christian Heritage, et al.) and foster parents while simultaneously increasing their workload. One example: HHS will no longer provide transportation for children to/from parent visits. That responsibility now falls to foster parents and/or the placement agencies despite them receiving less money. These agencies are having their payments slashed by thousands of dollars each month, forcing them to cut staff. Yet with their newly-shortened roster of personnel they’re supposed to take on the new responsibility of carting kids around town. Or if they can’t do it, foster parents are supposed to. The same foster parents who receive $12 per day are supposed to take off work to pick a kid up at daycare and take her to a visit, then wait around to take her back home when it’s over.

In the end, HHS is directly taking in millions of new taxpayer dollars, plus they’re indirectly taking in millions more by pulling money out of the pockets of those who most directly provide critical services to foster children and foster families. If all that money isn’t going to serve the kids and foster families ... where is it going? That’s not a rhetorical question, I really want to know!

It gets even better. Before they cut up their service coordination contract with HHS, KVC had a contract with Foster Care Closet to provide clothing and supplies to foster kids in KVC’s service area twice a year. The contract was a boon to foster families because it satisfied short-term needs until their first payment arrived (which often still wasn’t enough to cover immediate expenses). When KVC’s contract ended, so did their contract with Foster Care Closet. Now, HHS has so far declined to partner with Foster Care Closet. Despite Foster Care Closet’s ability to provide seven new outfits to foster kids at an average cost of only $33 per child, HHS (so far) prefers to rely on a voucher system paid directly to foster parents. Two problems:

First, the vouchers aren’t immediate enough. Foster families have no idea when they will show up, if at all. (Ours took five months, and even then it was only provided after a court order.) Second, vouchers cost taxpayers significantly more than $33 yet provide less value. Say the voucher is for $100. Now imagine trying to buy seven new and complete outfits for a teenager with that money. Good luck! In short, it’s HHS’s position that taxpayers would rather spend more on vouchers to get substantially less for their money, rather than partnering with a non-profit that has a demonstrated history of achieving substantial savings on clothing buys and distribution.

I realize this is a fairly disorganized rant. Dealing with child welfare reform has a tendency to cause one to sputter and babble. The institutional ignorance and inefficiency is enough to question your own sanity. “Surely it’s not that bad!”, you might be tempted to exclaim. Yet in truth, if you do some research you’ll soon find that around every turn is actually worse than you could have fathomed.

As a taxpayer you should be appalled. As a human you should be shattered. There’s really no Lincolnite this mess doesn’t touch.

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The Comments

Just Thinkin' March 27, 2012 at 2:20pm

Your outrage is justified and I concur.
Whenever I hear a state politician preach about “family values” or claim to be “pro-family,” I immediately become cynical. I ask, “What have you done to help children and struggling families?” Answers such as “tax relief” are unacceptable. Tax breaks don’t help homeless foster kids. I’m not saying the government should mindlessly throw money at the problem. The state should examine programs in other states or other countries and learn what works. Nebraska isn’t the only state that has struggled with foster care. Sociologists, juvenile justice advocates, child psychologists and family counselors have studied the problem for decades. There’s an abundance of research and ideas out there if the so called “pro-family” government officials are interested in reading up on the topic.

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