Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Children and Youth Services Review 35 (2013), pp 2049–2058.

doi 10.1016/j.childyouth.2013.10.011


Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.


Privatization, or contracting with non-governmental agencies for provision of state or federally funded services, is a strategy that has gained recent attention from policymakers as a potential tool for successful child welfare reform. The Child Welfare Privatization Initiatives Project was created in 2007 as a joint effort between the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. The framework identified by this project produced twelve key considerations for states moving towards a privatized system. This case study considers these twelve considerations in a description of the large-scale effort to privatize child welfare services in the state of Nebraska that began in 2008. Problems leading to a need for child welfare reform and possible factors that motivated policymakers to shift services from the public to the private sector are also described. While proponents of privatization appeared to expect rapid increased efficiency and cost-savings, this case study explores multiple reductions in quality and availability of services for children and families served by the child welfare system that occurred during the effort. Further, the cost of child welfare services in Nebraska increased by 27% and the private agencies invested over $21 million of their own funds as they attempted to uphold contracts. Recommendations for practitioners and policymakers considering participating in efforts to privatize child welfare services in the future are made based on Nebraska’s recent experience.