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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

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 191405

Reported Deaths: 2530
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah37970584
Washington25360229
Marion21814306
Clackamas17186209
Lane12838145
Jackson10733135
Deschutes870374
Umatilla814084
Linn482867
Yamhill442275
Klamath433061
Polk371052
Malheur350461
Josephine330868
Douglas322570
Benton303919
Jefferson217034
Coos204933
Columbia171526
Union144423
Lincoln137120
Wasco137028
Hood River118130
Morrow110115
Crook107320
Clatsop9728
Baker94614
Curry6459
Tillamook6403
Grant5065
Lake4447
Harney3388
Wallowa1825
Gilliam621
Sherman581
Wheeler281
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3758137

Reported Deaths: 62314
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles123565124022
Riverside2990644587
San Bernardino2965964707
San Diego2779493725
Orange2707445008
Santa Clara1189012085
Kern1090311373
Sacramento1042081672
Fresno1016761684
Alameda876331545
Ventura808421011
San Joaquin730091391
Contra Costa68582803
Stanislaus619161055
Tulare49554839
Monterey43563382
San Mateo41871568
San Francisco36642543
Santa Barbara34317456
Solano32752249
Merced31743458
Sonoma29984318
Imperial28373721
Kings22971246
Placer22550290
San Luis Obispo21282260
Madera16442242
Santa Cruz16188206
Marin14037228
Yolo13894209
Shasta12071226
Butte11962199
El Dorado10111113
Napa985381
Sutter9413111
Yuba622146
San Benito604863
Lassen569824
Tehama556362
Nevada471675
Tuolumne412364
Mendocino406149
Humboldt393939
Amador365247
Lake347043
Glenn238225
Colusa223016
Siskiyou218123
Calaveras212153
Inyo142638
Del Norte13678
Mono12804
Plumas7066
Modoc4954
Mariposa4457
Trinity3995
Sierra1120
Alpine880
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