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Tensions flare at strained hearing over Oregon foster care

Oregon lawmakers and child welfare officials went head-to-head in a tense over the state's beleaguered foster care system, with a top official accusing lawmakers of 'public shaming.'

Posted: Apr 24, 2019 12:02 PM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers and child welfare officials went head-to-head in a tense over the state's beleaguered foster care system, with a top official accusing lawmakers of "public shaming."

It was a rocky start to the first of a planned series of twice-weekly hearings meant to tackle a crisis in the state's foster care system, which has faced intense scrutiny over the years and recently became the target of a federal lawsuit.

Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat from Corvallis who has become a vocal child welfare advocate, called the Tuesday hearing for an update on seven children with intellectual and developmental disabilities who were sent to out-of-state residential facilities.

Gelser pressed officials from the Department of Human Services, which runs the state's foster care system, exactly who approved sending those children out of state, as Oregon had committed to stop sending children and adults with disabilities to these institutions a decade ago.

Gelser then detailed the conditions of the facilities, saying children went months without visits from caseworkers and that kids would be placed in straight jackets or injected with Benadryl to control their behavior.

"I am very sad that I have lost confidence in this agency," she said. "I have wanted to have confidence and trust in the agency but I have lost it."


CLICK HERE for more on an executive order issued by Governor Brown related to Oregon's 'foster care crisis.'


Oregon's Director of Human Services Fariborz Pakseresht shot back, saying he was deeply committed to helping the state's foster children and that the agency is filled with workers "breaking their back" to ensure kids are safe.

"These should not be public shaming sessions," he said, later adding, "If I'm not the right person to do this job, then it's a pretty simple fix."

In an unusual move, the hearing at one point recessed to bring in Senate President Peter Courtney, who defended Gelser.

"I don't think I've done anything like this before, ever," he said, adding that he instructed Gelser to conduct the hearing because "we gotta make this thing right."

Earlier this month a federal lawsuit was filed against the agency, saying the foster care system has failed to shield children from abuse and they are sometimes forced to stay in refurbished jail cells and homeless shelters. And since 2006, the agency has paid $39 million in legal settlements over allegations of abuse and neglect.

Oregon has over 80 children in out-of-state facilities, and DHS has committed to reassessing its use of those institutions. A 9-year-old girl who made headlines when advocates said she was injected with Benadryl in a Montana facility has been returned to Oregon.

Caseworkers have begun visiting each of the children sent out of state to re-examine their care going forward. Pakseresht said that all the kids visited so far were "safe" and "receiving the services that are appropriate for their development."

But Pakseresht also stressed that high-profile public hearings won't help reform the agency, and that Gelser was "putting him on the spot" to respond to questions he wasn't prepared to answer.

"If you want to help us to improve the system then come walk with us," he said, later adding he doesn't believe the "current process is going to bring this agency to a place where it can create better outcomes for children."

Gelser responded that she's "not concerned" about how the agency feels.

"I am more interested in walking alongside the children who are being hidden, who are far away, who have absolutely no one to speak for them," she said.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Reported Deaths: 2208
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Multnomah31853528
Washington21170212
Marion18416285
Clackamas13357175
Lane10224126
Jackson8377112
Umatilla765182
Deschutes594659
Yamhill377364
Linn358656
Malheur335058
Polk305342
Klamath278955
Douglas246354
Josephine233750
Benton233516
Jefferson195528
Coos148219
Union128419
Columbia126121
Wasco122126
Lincoln113120
Hood River106829
Morrow104714
Clatsop7756
Crook77518
Baker6567
Curry4266
Tillamook4142
Lake3756
Harney2736
Grant2221
Wallowa1424
Gilliam531
Sherman530
Wheeler221
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Cases: 3563578

Reported Deaths: 51953
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Los Angeles119089421328
Riverside2894503767
San Bernardino2862912816
Orange2610223904
San Diego2596413271
Santa Clara1104221777
Kern102627826
Fresno952021443
Sacramento931801472
Alameda804961241
Ventura77534844
San Joaquin665691101
Contra Costa62164674
Stanislaus56024946
Tulare47784758
Monterey42138328
San Mateo38922515
San Francisco34213410
Santa Barbara31763409
Solano30024164
Merced28915397
Sonoma28063298
Imperial26888591
Kings21951218
Placer19763232
San Luis Obispo19612227
Madera15436209
Santa Cruz14588183
Marin13136197
Yolo12816185
Shasta10972174
Butte10941160
El Dorado9095100
Napa901469
Sutter884597
San Benito575959
Yuba573336
Lassen560119
Tehama508152
Nevada395274
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Mendocino379643
Amador345741
Humboldt318033
Lake315341
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Calaveras190547
Siskiyou174014
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