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LINCOLN – Creating a new state agency to serve only children will fragment services to families, Kerry Winterer, Department of Health and Human Services CEO, told the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday (2/1/12).
LB 821 would create the Nebraska Children’s Commission and require legislation to form the Department of Children’s Services. Winterer opposed it stating the bill mandates that the commission draft legislation to create the new agency, but doesn’t provide for due consideration whether a new state agency is the best approach.
“I believe it would benefit the Legislature to consider other alternatives including studying the creation of a new division within DHHS to focus on the child welfare system,” he said.
Winterer said all branches and agencies of government, the foster care review board, service providers, advocates, county attorneys, and others have thoughts on what the priorities and goals should be.
“The administration and the department would be happy to work with the committee to explore ways to provide additional focus and emphasis on children’s services,” he said. “I welcome the opportunity to coordinate multiple partners to create a strategic plan for reforming our child welfare system.”
DHHS would welcome the opportunity to bring the multiple partners together for a shared vision and goal for the child welfare system, he said. “In fact, we have done that in our efforts to reform the system with our Partners Advisory Council.”
He added that reorganizations in 1997 and 2007 took steps to improve coordination of Nebraska’s health and human services programs and service delivery. While each division in the department focuses on its work, they also are in the same department and coordinate issues across divisions.
“As a result, each division better understands the challenges faced by other divisions in providing their specific services to children, families and individuals,” he said.
Division directors meet regularly to learn about the issues facing other divisions and to discuss ways to address issues as a department. These meetings have identified specific ways the divisions can better coordinate their services, he said, and this coordination works its way down through administrators, program managers and staff.
“The committee needs to be mindful of the constitutional questions that come with creating a commission that includes members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches,” Winterer said. “It is possible the bill as currently drafted violates the separation of powers doctrine contained in the Nebraska Constitution.”