State Canceling Contract with Saint Francis

Dec. 14, 2021, midnight ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The State of Nebraska is cancelling its controversial contract with Saint Francis Ministries for child welfare services.

In 2019, Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration signed a contract with Saint Francis Ministries, a Kansas organization, to manage child welfare cases involving neglected or abused kids in the Omaha area.

The 5-year, $197 million contract was for 40 percent less than was being charged by the previous case manager. But it quickly became clear Saint Francis couldn’t do the job and still meet Nebraska’s legal requirements, including limiting caseworkers to 17 cases.

In January, the state signed an emergency contract with Saint Francis for another $150 million. That was supposed to last until February, 2023

Today’s announcement did not specify a reason for the canceling of the contract. But in October, the state barred Saint Francis from taking on additional cases, assigning them to state child welfare workers instead. At the time, the Department of Health and Human Services said that would allow Saint Francis to correct deficiencies and build appropriate staff. Tuesday’s announcement said the state would assume case management responsibilities effective January 3.

Jennifer Carter, the state’s inspector general for child welfare, said the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and Saint Francis were doing the right thing by ending their contract. Carter called managing child welfare cases a “core government function,” adding the state’s pilot program of privatizing those services, begun more than a decade ago, has not been successful.

The state still has contracts with Saint Francis to recruit foster parents and place children in foster homes. A legislative special committee has been investigating the Saint Francis case management contract, and its report is due out Wednesday.