Privatization of child welfare services still must ensure stability

If someone were to ask: What’s the most vital concern of a child? Our answer would be stability.
That goes double for children in state foster care and its adoptive systems.
HB 2010 never received much fanfare during the Legislature’s regular session, eventually winning approval at the session’s midnight hour.
However, the impact of this bill stands to potentially make plenty of headlines in the near and distant future.
What this bill does is require the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources to contract with a managed care organization to coordinate the care for the 7,000-plus children in the state’s custody.
Last week, the DHHR released its bid for an MCO to take over the state’s foster care and adoption system by January.
This move is billed as a way to help streamline care for children in state custody and adoptive families.
The whole idea of privatizing child welfare services would seem to smack of major risks.
The primary risk that comes to mind are fears an MCO would care more about its bottom line than the children.
That is, private companies are designed to always look to increase profits, which sometimes leads to shortcuts or larger workloads, caseloads in this instance. And all too often cutting corners to save money can cost states more.
True, the DHHR already looks to be the mother of all bureaucracies in our state. Yet, some fear this move could mean less care and even more bureaucracy.
It’s also worrisome when agencies charged with such a trust as children start talking in terms of innovative service-delivery approaches and case management ratios rather than simply appropriate standards.
We have no reason to doubt the DHHR does need help caring for these thousands of children, many of whom are the victims of abuse and neglect and have never known stability. Caseloads for Child Protective Service workers is undoubtedly overwhelming.
Still, this new MCO approach or the DHHR’s efforts are not silver bullets for caring for so many troubled children.
The state is taking a big risk with this changeover. However, if the bid process with an MCO to do this is as extensive as it should be and the DHHR retains oversight of this contract it could work.
Admittedly, we have reservations about this transition. But if it’s done seamlessly and the state insists on rigorous standards for caseloads, multiple placements, etc., it will help.
But meeting those obligations is crucial to make sure that abused and neglected children get help and that the system retains a vital need: Stability.
If that concept of stability is sacrificed at the altar of profits or is mishandled by this move, public confidence just won’t be shaken it will be outraged.

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