Kids are caught in the fallout as a company files for bankruptcy. They are the foster children who were served by Visinet, out of Omaha and Lincoln.
Back in November, Nebraska began using private companies to coordinate more foster care. It was part of a reform of the juvenile services system. The goal of is to care for more children in their own homes, whenever possible, with services designed to meet their family’s needs.
The state uses three companies, two non-profit, and Visinet. But the company’s workers were notified shortly before midnight Thursday that as of Friday, all operations would cease. It follows a declaration last week of Chapter 11 reorganization.
Now, some 500 workers are without jobs. And some 2,000 children, many who are wards of the state, will be transferred to other programs.
Friday, as foster parents went to Visinet’s 118th and Arbor office in Omaha to pick up a month’s worth of their state aid, they learned there is no money. And employees doubt they will receive their final paychecks.
Corinne Guss, who served as a Family Partner for Visinet, was the sole bread-winner in her household. Her husband has been looking for a job since he was laid off in December. But she’s more concerned about the families she served right now.
"Who’s going to hurt the most are the kids in foster homes that are no longer going to be operating, more workers and more strangers. That's who's the victim in all this,” Guss said.
Heidi Terrell was among those trying to pick up a payment Friday. She has three foster children, and one of them has an 11 month-old baby. "To me they are my kids, right there,” she said. “And I don't understand that the state let it come to this. Trying to make it better? No, they made it worse. The bad end of the stick is for the kids."
When Visinet announced Chapter 11, the company released a statement through its attorney which read in part, “The intention of Visinet to continue to provide services to children and families... for an indefinite period, depending on arrangements with the Court and Health and Human Services.”
A note on the door said the state had failed to work with their new contract offer.
KVC Behavioral Services, alongside Nebraska Families Collaborative, will take on cases transferred from Visinet. “We're working on a plan with the department to figure out how we're going to handle the transition of these cases," said President Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez.
She assured those struggling with lost payments will get the help they need. “We’re planning to keep them whole. So, if there is something that they weren’t paid for in terms of providing for a child, if they transfer to us and affiliate with us, we're going to make sure that their needs are met financially."
She added, “One of the advantages of this reform has been that the state is still very much involved. So there still is a DHHS worker still assigned to the case. They’ve never exited the life of the family. So there is that continuity.”
Still, Terrell worries about the children of foster parents who are only in it for the extra money. “So many foster parents pay their SUV's before they take care of their kids,” she said.
Though it will be tough to scrape by, Terrell said she has no choice. "I will fight tooth and nail to leave my girls where they are because that's what they want."
KVC has already contacted Terrell and other foster families and has arranged meetings with them through Saturday. The company also plans to hire some of Visinet’s displaced employees.
Calls to Visinet's attorney Friday were not returned. The office later released a statement, explaining more of what led to the bankruptcy.
It stated, "Visinet and other contractors were presented with a new contract with HHS commencing in late 2009. Visinet and other contractors called to the attention of HHS that the new contract did not have adequate funding for the services HHS was asking the contractors to provide."
Eventually, the letter continues, "the losses became insurmountable based on the additional unanticipated services they were required to provide."
After filing for Chapter 11, "Visinet was unable to reach a resolution with HHS and its offers to solve the crises were declined... Visinet’s owners and employees are devastated by this inability to work out an arrangement with the State for a smooth transition for the families. Visinet still holds out hope that some arrangement can be made to resolve the situation."