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Report: Oregon foster care system needs 'extensive work'

The report itself is a follow-up to a 2018 state audit that found systemic issues in the way the DHS manages the approximately 7,500 foster children in its care.

Posted: Jun 5, 2019 11:58 AM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's troubled foster care system still needs to undergo "extensive work" if it wants to adequately address child safety issues, according to a new report released Wednesday from the secretary of state's Office.

But a lack of funding could stand in the way of any major progress, and the report notes the state's Department of Human Services will need an expensive overall requiring hundreds of new staff members plus years of dedicated investments from legislators and community members.

"There is nothing more important than the wellbeing of children," Secretary of State Bev Clarno said in a statement. "DHS is moving in the right direction, but there is still work that needs to be done to ensure proper staffing, suitable foster homes and residential facilities, and a better overall culture."

The report itself is a follow-up to a 2018 state audit that found systemic issues in the way the DHS manages the approximately 7,500 foster children in its care. Child welfare workers, overburdened with high caseloads, had little to no time to meet in person with the children in their care. Out of a lack of quality foster care homes, the department has been forced to keep children in hotels, refurbished juvenile jails or in out-of-state, for-profit facilities where child welfare advocates say kids were neglected and left vulnerable to further abuses.

The agency has weathered years criticism and has recently been slapped with a federal lawsuit alleging that DHS has failed to shield children from abuse.

The secretary of state's office notes that DHS has taken some positive steps, working to improve workplace culture and expand training opportunities for caseworkers. But the report notes that problems still remain.

Progress going forward could be more difficult, as the office cautions that "uncertain funding for improvements could undermine those efforts."


CLICK HERE for our story on a recent executive order issued by Gov. Brown aimed at dealing with the child welfare crisis.


The report stresses that reducing caseworker turnover and workload is likely the "most important" step in addressing the flaws within the foster care system, but it's also the most expensive.

The Secretary of State's office estimates that the department would need an additional 570 caseworkers and 800 support workers to meet its staffing needs, far more than even DHS' original estimates. That, the office admits, would require "extensive funding."

It's a tough ask, especially as legislative budget leaders are looking to make 5% cuts across nearly all state agencies.

Gov. Kate Brown recommended spending $762 million on foster care in her proposed budget late last year, which is $56 million more than what the agency needs to maintain existing services. But her budget, which prioritizes recruiting foster parents and expanding placements for high-needs youth, notably doesn't include the agency's requests for an additional $77 million to expand staffing levels.

Legislators are finalizing agency budgets and must decide how to allocate the historic amount of revenue flowing into the state before the end of June. But despite the unexpected increase in cash flow, budget leaders have cautioned prudence and previously suggested investing the money into the state's rainy-day fund.

Brown wants to use $50 million of the surplus revenue to pay for additional caseworkers among other improvements, saying it's the first step to "lower caseloads, and improve staff culture and child safety."

"To move forward and make meaningful change, the agency needs more resources and expertise," she said in a statement. "I have deployed an oversight board and crisis management team, but the Legislature needs to do their part and provide the funding needed for the state to better serve children."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 314841

Reported Deaths: 3624
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah51325643
Washington35086277
Marion32748396
Clackamas26680275
Lane24145248
Jackson21050257
Deschutes16703103
Umatilla12736125
Douglas10795188
Linn1051487
Josephine8685169
Yamhill752099
Klamath651892
Polk629171
Malheur485567
Benton463728
Coos420669
Columbia325439
Jefferson315347
Lincoln277930
Union274838
Wasco242339
Crook213639
Clatsop213225
Tillamook182023
Baker176123
Morrow168621
Curry167817
Hood River163435
Harney82319
Grant7848
Lake6988
Wallowa50811
Gilliam1374
Sherman1283
Wheeler651
Unassigned00

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Cases: 4651497

Reported Deaths: 68087
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Los Angeles144634825870
Riverside3583834802
San Diego3502674021
San Bernardino3475745507
Orange3150815355
Sacramento1507202105
Santa Clara1407321841
Kern1362881521
Fresno1361631889
Alameda1164051330
Ventura978991120
San Joaquin975341615
Contra Costa95858924
Stanislaus808921235
Tulare73111896
San Mateo52311607
San Francisco52008605
Monterey49485565
Solano44247312
Santa Barbara43189500
Sonoma39476378
Merced39446536
Placer36612364
Imperial34285755
Kings30179285
San Luis Obispo28351313
Madera21749263
Butte21379231
Shasta20763279
Santa Cruz20176211
Yolo19192239
Marin17127242
El Dorado16037127
Sutter13122153
Napa1228795
Yuba928061
Nevada850185
Humboldt831988
Tehama827784
San Benito709567
Mendocino691176
Lassen637927
Tuolumne616993
Lake605887
Amador493059
Glenn399030
Siskiyou391541
Calaveras342766
Del Norte339034
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Inyo166739
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