EUGENE, Ore. – On April 16, 2019 a lawsuit was filed against the State of Oregon in the United States District Court, District of Oregon, Eugene Division. Brought by friends of 10 children in the foster care system, the civil lawsuit is suing Governor Kate Brown, Director of Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) Fairborz Pakseresht, Director of Child Welfare (CW) Marilyn Jones and the Oregon DHS.
The lawsuit alleges that the Oregon Department of Human Services is not caring properly for the thousands of children in the DHS system, and in fact is causing further harm to these vulnerable children.
The U.S. Constitution and Federal law require several items that the Oregon child welfare system must follow. Among these are:
- Assigning children to a placement conforming to recommended professional standards. (42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(10))
- Provide the children with a written case plan including safe and stable foster care homes. (42 U.S.C. §§ 671(a)(16), 675(1)(A))
- A written case plan ensuring an adoptive home or permanent home if the child cannot be returned to their family. (42 U.S.C. §§ 671(a)(16), 675(1)(E))
- Maintaining a case review system so each child is reviewed every six months to determine the safety of each child and their placement status. (42 U.S.C. §§ 671(a)(16), 675(5)(B), 675(5)(C))
- Reviewing each child that has been in the foster care system 15 of most recent 22 months to petition to terminate the parental rights of the parents and identifies and approves a family for adoption. ( 42 U.S.C. §§ 671(a)(16), 675(5)(B), 675(5)(E))
This is not the first time that the State of Oregon has been put on notice of significant issues and deficiencies in their system. Since 2006, the state has paid over $39 million in damage awards and currently faces eight lawsuits for personal injury from current and former foster children.
In addition, numerous reports, audits and reviews have been reported on the problems listed in the complaint.
The 2018 Secretary of State’s audit, “DHS CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM FOSTER CARE IN OREGON CHRONIC MANAGEMENT FAILURES AND HIGH CASELOADS JEOPARDIZE THE SAFETY OF SOME OF THE STATE’S MOST VULNERABLE CHILDREN,” showed a few issues.
In regards to the foster care records, they were “unreliable for our audit purposes due to uncertain and untested data integrity and accuracy, incompleteness, data entry error and poor quality data conversion.” In fact, the report noted that “DHS management staff did not have confidence in its own data and that case workers were tracking their required visits by ‘handwritten notes on cubicle walls’ instead of the state database.”
The 2008 Federal Audit by the Child and Family Service Review (CFSR) showed that children were not in stable homes with many placed in over capacity homes, and that they were not being placed in permanent homes as required by federal law. The state made commitments then (still not implemented) to improve the workforce which would increase the safety of the children and provide more resources.
In 2012, then-Secretary of State Kate Brown issued the findings of an audit which detailed that DHS was only able to meet the needs of 68% of its caseload due to their current staffing. The recommendations included have not been enacted or enacted in a way that is ineffective.
In 2016, Governor Brown commissioned another study following the Give Us This Day scandal in which four recommendations and findings were included. “There are (sic) a lack of appropriate placements for children in foster care, the state’s capacity for high needs children was shrinking, providers across a range of placement settings were not getting the appropriate training, and the urgency to place children was compromising the certification and licensing standards.”
Most recently, the 2016 federal (CFSR) audit stated that the state had failed in achieving any of their outcomes relating to “permanency, safety and well-being of children in care, and was in ‘substantial conformity’ with just two of the systemic factors. Notably, just 20% of children had permanency and stability in their living situations.” The report also noted “practice concerns with making face-to-face contact with alleged victims of child abuse and neglect during investigations, and with conducting comprehensive assessments of risk and safety.” This failure is detailed in the story of Simon.
This audit also showed that only 44% of the children have received an evaluation for any emotional or behavioral health needs within 60 days of removal from the family home. Additionally, 37% of the children in foster care have never had their needs assessed at all while 26% of the children actually received a case plan within the first 60 days.
In detailing the cases of the 10 kids currently in foster care, the complaint states:
- DHS does not have enough caseworkers. Even after hiring additional workers, many workers are leaving which results in a net of very few additional workers.
- Many of the caseworkers at DHS have not been adequately trained and do not receive support to carry out their duties. This results in a high turnover rate and a staff that has been on the job an average of 18 months or less.
- DHS and CW do not evaluate and assess the needs of the children, so they were never assessed at all, which doesn’t allow for the overworked caseworkers to create individual plans and outcomes for them.
- DHS does not have enough foster homes and ends up placing the kids out of state in multiple temporary homes, hospitals, hotels, homeless shelters, refurbished delinquency institutions, overcrowded homes and even in homes with very little screening. Each move causes delays in seeking appropriate medical care since the move requires changing the Medicaid information and services.
- DHS does not provide homes or services and treatment to those children who have disabilities. These disabilities range from emotional, intellectual, psychological or physical.
- Sexual and Gender minorities (SGM rather than LGBTQ) are deprived of safe and stable environments. They have to chose between staying in the closet or having to be moved.
- DHS does not provide foster parents with support, training and compensation. They do not seek new foster families, especially any who are willing to care for those children with disabilities.
- The children who either are or should be available to be adopted are not placed in homes in a timely manner. These kids can remain in foster care for years until they age out as adults which results in homelessness.
The 10 children named in the suit are suing for the following causes of action:
- Substantive Due Process
- The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Rehabilitation Act
This is the beginning of a three-part story reporting on the complaint. Please check in tomorrow where the stories of the 10 children are detailed then part three detailing the abuses and deficiencies at the DHS level.