Legislature considers foster care review bill

By: Megan Palera

In an effort to revamp and fix a broken child welfare system, lawmakers are now looking at eliminating the state board altogether. Some senators believe threats are being made to keep people from talking.

The review board was created as an independent state agency back in the early 1980s. People say it started out great, but now there's conflicts of interest and personal vendettas and according to one senator, threats of job losses.

“I want to put everyone on notice right now that any member in this organization, in this agency, that gets a pink slip, in my mind needs to have a very valid reason to walk,” said Senator Bob Krist.

Senator Krist claims employees of the foster care review board were told not to talk today for fear of losing their jobs. His bill would eliminate the eleven member state board– the watchdog of Health and Human Services.

Instead, it would be called the Review Office and data would be reported directly to HHS. The Board's chairwoman says she knows nothing of this so-called “silencing.” As far as she's concerned, the importance is the work. “If the work can still be done, if the jobs are still there for our staff, if the local board members continue to do what they do with such dedication and such quality now. If our staff can work as hard for another organization that they can for the board then we are pleased,” said Georgie Scurfield, chairwoman of the Foster Care Review Board.

Under LB998, all 350 current volunteers on local review boards will continue to do what they're doing. The big change is that the governor gets to appoint one member to each of the 46 local boards. The executive director, whom the board forced to resign last week, works for the Legislature.

“We don't have to be afraid of what's coming next. We know with this type of bill it's solid and we're not concerned about every year to dodge a bullet,” said Burrell WIlliams, former board member.

No one with the state board spoke for or against the bill today. Instead, they took a neutral stand, but their message was loud and clear. “I am truly sorry that the concerns of the introduction of these bills are taking time and attention away from the real and immediate heart breaking issues surrounding Nebraska's child welfare system,” said Marcia Anderson, local board representative.

Hearing was also held today for another bill involving the state board. It requires that no board member, or their employer, receive funding from HHS, eliminating all conflicts of interest.