SALEM, Ore. — Responding to mounting pressure aimed at Oregon's child welfare system, Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order on Thursday in an attempt to create greater oversight on conditions within the state's Department of Human Services (DHS).
“Oregon’s child welfare system is overburdened to the point where I have serious concerns about the state’s ability to sufficiently serve our most vulnerable children,” said Governor Brown. “While DHS is working on long-term solutions to right-size the foster care system, there needs to be immediate action to protect children in care today. That’s why today I am establishing a Child Welfare Oversight Board and bringing in additional resources and expertise.”
I've asked DHS to stop placing foster kids in former jails & improve oversight of unregulated county facilities Foster kids don't belong in detention facilities. DHS started this practice w/o a law. They don't need legislation to stop it. They can and should stop today. #orpol https://t.co/s5guN0G4sE— Sara Gelser (@SenSaraGelser) April 18, 2019
Brown and DHS officials currently face a class action lawsuit leveled by child welfare advocacy groups, alleging that the state has failed to shield children from abuse and kept them in substandard housing conditions.
We filed a lawsuit to transform Oregon’s foster care system along w/ co-counsel @ABC & @DWT. Roughly half of the 8,000 children in Oregon's system who experience a disability are not getting their needs met in a stable, family-like home https://t.co/p1NfllokFS #ORfostercare pic.twitter.com/2OUn8ayyAZ
— DisabilityRtsOR (@DisabilityRtsOR) April 16, 2019
Thursday's executive order establishes a Child Welfare Oversight Board to advise the Governor on what measures to take in order to address the state's "child welfare crisis." Brown has asked that the Board examine DHS practices on out-of-state foster child placements, improving capacity within the system for adequate types of foster care, and addressing issues with transparency, communications, hiring and human resources.
The Governor said that she has also directed DHS and its Child Welfare Program to "suspend or amend any agency policies or rules that make it difficult to address challenges in the child welfare system," including "policies or rules related to hiring or contracting."
“Oregon’s challenges in foster care have been long-standing, and our children and families deserve better,” said Governor Brown. “We need to mobilize quickly if we want to improve the lives of those in Oregon’s foster care system. I also want to be clear that the child welfare system belongs to all of us as Oregonians, not just DHS or state government. Part of the reform in child welfare is engaging communities in being part of the solution."
In a statement commenting on Brown's executive order, DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht pointed out that the state's Child Welfare program has been "extremely strained" for decades.
"During the past two years, there have been multiple internal and independent assessments and audits of the agency and its Child Welfare program that all point to the same list of solutions," Pakseresht said. "We have a clear picture of what must be done, we have defined the strategies to correct the problems, we have been building the foundation for the corrective work and we are making progress."
Creating a "robust child well-being system" would take time, he added, voicing his support for Governor Brown's executive order.
"Keeping Oregon’s foster children safe and helping our families heal and thrive takes all of us working together," Pakseresht said. "We look forward to working productively and cooperatively with the Governor’s designees."
Brown and other officials have indicated efforts are underway to bring back foster children being held out of state at third-party facilities, state Sen. Sara Gelser saying that her office had already helped to return a 9-year-old girl highlighted in a damning OPB report from last week.