LINCOLN — Nebraska child welfare officials have hung out the “help wanted” sign.
The state Department of Health and Human Services has started advertising to fill 174.5 child-welfare case manager, supervisor, case aide and other positions.
A Monday announcement said the department hopes to fill the positions within the next six to eight weeks.
Thomas Pristow, the state's child and family services director, said the hiring is aimed at bringing worker caseloads down to manageable levels.
“Reduced caseload size will provide staff with the opportunity to do their work much more effectively and focus on the basis of providing solid social work to our families,” he said.
The department's goal is to have one case manager for every 16 children in out-of-home care and one for every 17 families with children still living at home.
Case managers currently average as many as 20 families, according to Russ Reno, a department spokesman.
The Nebraska Legislature mandated smaller child welfare caseloads as part of its efforts to revamp the troubled child welfare system.
The lower caseloads are to be in place by Sept. 1.
Senators put into law the caseload goals that HHS officials announced in February, when a two-year experiment in privatizing child welfare fell apart.
State workers have been managing most child welfare cases since March, when the state lost its largest private contractor, the Kansas-based KVC.
Three other contractors lost or dropped their contracts in 2010.
Only one contractor remains. The Omaha-based Nebraska Families Collaborative, which manages all cases in the Omaha areas, also has to meet the statutory caseload caps.
HHS plans to fill 140 positions in the southeast service area, including 111 positions that have been filled on a temporary basis by former KVC workers. Those workers have to apply and go through the regular hiring process to get a permanent position, Reno said.
The department also plans to fill 10 new positions in the western service area, 8.5 positions in the central area and 16 positions in the northern area.
Lawmakers approved the governor's request for $17 million in additional state funds to pay for the new workers.
Pristow said Monday that HHS also is redrawing the boundaries of its service areas to comply with the new state law.
The new boundaries, which take effect July 1, will be aligned with district court judicial districts.
Pristow said matching up the service areas and judicial districts should reduce confusion and help HHS work more efficiently with the courts.
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