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State attorneys seek dismissal of Oregon foster care lawsuit

State attorneys are seeking to dismiss a sweeping federal lawsuit targeting Oregon's troubled foster care system.

Posted: Jul 26, 2019 12:17 PM
Updated: Jul 26, 2019 2:17 PM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — State attorneys representing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Department of Human Services filed a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit targeting Oregon's troubled foster care system, arguing in part that the state is already taking significant action to address child welfare.

The motion, filed Thursday, responds to a lawsuit filed in April arguing that the state violated foster children's federal and constitutional rights by not providing them proper care. The suit said DHS failed to protect the 7,500 foster children in its custody from harm and cited numerous examples, including a case involving a nine-year-old girl who was sent to an out-of-state facility where she was drugged and physically restrained by staff.

In its motion to dismiss, the state argues the federal court system cannot compel changes to Oregon's foster care system and that improving child welfare is "a task that must be left to Oregon's juvenile courts and state government." Brown and other top leaders at DHS have also released comprehensive plans to address challenges identified in the lawsuit making litigation unnecessary, attorneys argued.

Brown signed an executive order in April convening a Child Welfare Oversight Board to introduce and implement changes to the foster care system regarding out-of-state placements, a shortage of foster homes within Oregon, and complaints from child welfare workers that they are overworked and understaffed. DHS announced this week that it is prepared to hire over 300 additional child welfare workers, a move driven by the governor's executive order.

But the national advocacy group A Better Childhood, which filed the original lawsuit, said it's too early to tell if state's course of action can adequately address the scope of the problem.

"You can't dismiss a lawsuit just because the state promises to be better," said Marcia Lowry, executive director of the New-York based nonprofit. "The state has good intentions, but for ten years they've been making recommendations on how to fix the problem without any real results."

A Better Childhood, which has filed similar lawsuits in other states, has two weeks to respond to the state's motion to dismiss. A judge would decide whether or not to move forward with the case.

Jake Sunderland, a spokesperson for DHS, said the department "cannot comment on this litigation at this time."

Federal judges have issued mixed rulings on suits targeting state foster care systems. A Florida court dismissed a similar case in 2003, while a Texas appeals court this month upheld a court ruling compelling the state to make significant changes to its child welfare system.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 348766

Reported Deaths: 4161
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah54797689
Washington37988313
Marion36055444
Clackamas29094304
Lane26966298
Jackson22632300
Deschutes19577123
Umatilla14241144
Linn12380120
Douglas11795240
Josephine9233195
Yamhill8517110
Klamath7709110
Polk715380
Malheur551574
Benton529130
Coos489691
Columbia371343
Jefferson361450
Union313146
Lincoln310638
Wasco281540
Crook274745
Clatsop239529
Baker198028
Tillamook193328
Hood River188337
Morrow181623
Curry178122
Harney108424
Grant97612
Lake89011
Wallowa67012
Gilliam1484
Sherman1463
Wheeler991
Unassigned00

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Reported Deaths: 70598
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Riverside3693444990
San Diego3636444159
San Bernardino3563155566
Orange3227415518
Sacramento1576212279
Santa Clara1445181890
Kern1441461605
Fresno1441232051
Alameda1198871372
San Joaquin1018071708
Ventura1005241164
Contra Costa99234982
Stanislaus851571315
Tulare78945951
San Francisco54031645
San Mateo53828622
Monterey50696582
Solano45761334
Santa Barbara44836521
Merced41781577
Sonoma40711402
Placer38902415
Imperial35642764
Kings32369314
San Luis Obispo29653329
Madera23518281
Butte23364260
Shasta23360334
Santa Cruz20861218
Yolo20147247
Marin17581243
El Dorado16960149
Sutter13775169
Napa12808100
Yuba994282
Tehama9298104
Humboldt9102108
Nevada903990
Mendocino752786
Lassen746346
San Benito737372
Tuolumne673993
Lake6506104
Amador537264
Siskiyou442742
Glenn430330
Calaveras381780
Del Norte356141
Colusa301718
Inyo196739
Mono16445
Plumas15756
Mariposa127315
Trinity86011
Modoc6698
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