While the statistics compiled show a serious systemic problem within the Oregon Department of Health Services (DHS), often lost in the discussions are the personal stories of children, our most vulnerable citizens. Let’s take a moment to meet them and understand fully what life in the DHS has been for them.
Two of the children, Wyatt B., three years old, and Noah F., a year old are currently in DHS custody. They have been under DHS custody since September 2018 when allegations were made of domestic violence and drug abuse in the home. Wyatt was born with a congenital heart defect which will require surgery when he weighs more. Neither brother was assessed as having any special needs or behavioral issues.
Wyatt and Noah were moved six or seven times within the first three weeks of placement and a decision was made to separate the brothers. When the DHS supervisor came to get Noah, his bag was opened and Wyatt’s heart medications were in there. It came to light that Noah had been taking Wyatt’s medications which were not prescribed for him and were too strong for his size. He was hospitalized for two days. Wyatt, who had not been taking his medicine, was not even seen by a doctor.
Their mother had a regularly scheduled visit the next day. She was only told that the boys were unavailable by the social service assistant (SSA). Two days later, the mom was told the visit had been cancelled because the boys were ill. The SSA was told to conceal the medication mix-up and Wyatt was removed from the home where the mix-up occurred.
Wyatt’s and Noah’s caseworker worked on an in-home plan and the boys were returned home on September 5, 2018. During the one month in DHS care, the brothers had experienced multiple moves, two case workers, two permanency workers and two supervisors.
After Thanksgiving 2018, the boys were placed in DHS custody again due to allegations made that their mom had contact with her abusive husband. They were moved between homes every day in a one-week period and were separated. During one of the visits between Wyatt and his mom, it was discovered the dosage on his heart medications were lowered without consulting a doctor. His Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) reported to the court that his medications were mishandled twice, which can be fatal.
Wyatt, as a result of being away from his mom, “has begun to exhibit significant behavioral issues. He is now described by the caseworker and CASA in reports an an angry child, displaying fits including flailing, hitting, kicking, screaming and throwing things.”
His brother Noah has night terrors unless held. “DHS has informed the court that the only way to keep the children together was ‘at the expense of frequently moving placements’ as ‘the county was not able to locate a suitable and sustainable placement that could house both children long term in county or anywhere else in the state of Oregon.’ DHS acknowledged that ‘the frequent changes in placement [had] a significant adverse impact on each child’s behavior.”
To make the situation more grim, Wyatt’s foster mom in mid-March stated she needed a break from being a foster mom and that Wyatt needed to be moved by April 1, 2019.
Kylie, 7, and Alec R., 8, have been under DHS custody since late January 2019 when they were removed from their mother due to allegations of neglect and substance abuse in the home. Both children are extremely close and bonded with their mom.
Kylie has had five placements and has run away twice to her mom’s home. Alec has had four placements. Kylie is now having increased tantrums and her foster parents have not been advised of them. In one placement, the kids were dropped off on a Friday afternoon. The foster parents were not provided with the kids last names or their health plan cards or advised of Kylie’s tantrums. Her tantrums were so bad, multiple calls were placed to DHS on how to respond to them. All these calls went unanswered. The foster parents tried to take Kylie to the hospital out of a fear she would hurt herself. They could not since they were not given her health care cards.
Both Kylie and Alec contracted lice while in DHS custody. But without the children’s health care cards the foster parents could not get treatment for them. It was so bad for Kylie that she didn’t want to go to school out of embarrassment.
The kids were separated and Kylie was placed in a residential psychiatric facility. At this facility she was finally treated for her lice, six weeks after being placed in DHS custody. Her hair had to be shaved off and she now refers to herself as a boy.
Another child, Unique L., 9 years old, has been in DHS custody for two and a half years. She has had emotional and behavior issues since six years old. Unique’s mom was diagnosed with a significant mental health condition leading to her being verbally abusive and keeping Unique out of school. Her step-dad is currently in prison for molesting her sibling and it is suspected that he molested Unique as well.
Unique’s mom is not a new person in the child welfare system. Her parental rights in respect to her two older children have been terminated.
Unique has had multiple placements at Jasper Mountain Safe Center. This program is supposed to be a 30-90 day program. However, Unique has spent months at the Safe Center.
In June of 2017, she was moved to a therapeutic placement center. There she had no contact with her mom as she was focused on maintaining custody of Unique’s siblings. October 2017, the visitations with her mom started again.
She started taking Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) medications which helped her to focus in school. Her behavior continued to decline until April 2018, when her foster mom stated she couldn’t care for her anymore. Despite her therapist saying that her mom wasn’t ready to take care of her, Unique was returned to her care. According to the complaint, DHS in fact tried to dismiss the case, over Unique’s attorney objections.
Her mom ended up locking Unique out on the porch demanding that she be removed from the home. “Specifically, in one voicemail message, the mother stated: ‘… it’s time for us to have someone come and intervene and get this little bitch out of my house, cause I’m fucking done now, she can’t come back in, she’s on the porch, she ain’t allowed in my fucking house. All her shit is packed. Her fucking dresser is gonna be out there, anything I can get out of this house right now, she got to go, she gotta fucking go, she ain’t sleeping in here tonight. So, unless I need to call 911, somebody needs to fucking come and get her.”
Unique was moved to the Safe Center for 72 hours then moved to a temporary home. She was then placed in an Oregon Community Program (OCP) therapeutic foster home.
July 17, 2018 Unique was given a psychiatric assessment where it was stated that she needed a combination of mental health and behavioral support services to manage her conditions defined as anxiety, ADHD, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), as well as cope with transitions between the foster home and school.
On July 18, 2018 Unique threatened to kill herself with a piece of glass. On August 8, 2018 she destroyed property in the OCP lobby which caused OCP to inform DHS that she needed to be discharged within 30 days.
August 14, 2018 police were called to OCP because Unique was verbally and physically aggressive and was destroying property. OCP wanted her to be discharged immediately and she was again moved to Safe Center.
From August 16 to October 23, 2018 Unique was placed in Albertina Kerr Sub-Acute facility in Portland, Oregon, a foster home in Veneta and twice in the Emergency Room. During her time at Albertina Kerr, she was seen by a psychiatrist and diagnosed with PTSD, combined type ADHD, and a significant history of unpredictability and volatility.
September 27, 2018 Unique walked into the street yelling profanities at other students. She stated that she didn’t want to be alive and tried to walk into traffic multiple times.
In October 2018 Unique was placed in Acadia Montana in Montana. Acadia Montana is a 108-bed residential treatment center for kids ages 5 to 18. It is a short-term placement from three to six months. During her time there, she had such severe tantrums that she was subjected to four-person holds and two-person holds. Even though she only weighed 90 pounds, she was secluded by staff and subject to chemical restraint when she threw tantrums. If Unique didn’t agree to take her medications, she would be subject to being forced to have them administered via IV. She was on a daily course of oral medications including anti-psychotic, anti-convulsion and anti-epileptic drugs, despite not suffering from seizures.
Nobody from DHS visited Unique in the Montana home and at the time of the complaint, there are no plans to bring her back to Oregon. The Montana home costs $330 per day or $120,450 per year.
Simon S. is a 13-year-old who was released from Jasper Mountain to his paternal grandmother. He and his younger sister were referred to DHS in 2010. In this case, there were 35 reports made for physical and sexual abuse and neglect. He had facial bruising with black eyes, scratches, bruising on the body, welts and bruises, cut and swollen lips. In October 2011, six reports were made for injuries caused by his dad. No action was taken until February 2012. He was removed for 10 months for allegations of physical abuse and neglect.
May 2012 Simon told a staff member that he had been sexually abused by another relative. A report was made to DHS who stated that this was consistent with observed sexual behaviors. However, the case was closed at screening and he was returned to his parents’ home.
DHS didn’t take any further actions or issue any reports for three years. In fact, Simon attended the same school as his abuser. According to the complaint, no efforts to investigate the claims were made nor was any effort to provide counseling or other services.
January 2014, Simon’s school contacted DHS because they were concerned that he was being sexually abused by a student who was a family member. “The school reported during this call that, ‘ no charges were brought against the [alleged abuser] though DHS did an investigation and has every reason to believe abuse did occur […] there is nothing legal to keep the two apart though the school has been doing its best. The school official informed DHS that Simon had started defecating in his pants after seeing his abuser in the hallways, apparently as a means of protecting himself against further molestation, and regularly arrived at school with feces in his pants and pockets.” DHS closed the case at screening and Simon was kept in the home.
For over a year, Simon would come to school with feces in his underwear, pants and pockets. His mother, per the complaint, stated that “Simon is just too lazy to go to the bathroom and won’t use the toilet as the seat is too cold.” DHS again closed the case at screening.
Finally, June 20, 2015 Simon was removed from the home for a second time and spent 14 months in foster care. DHS, instead of giving Simon services, treatment and protection, they designed a “safety plan” for when Simon was around his younger sister. He was deemed a sexual threat to her because of the abuse he suffered. He wasn’t allowed to be in the home at the same time as his sister.
In December 2017 Simon was again removed from the home and placed in Safe Center at Jasper Mountain facility for 15 months. Then, in October 2018, it was determined that Simon could be placed somewhere with lower care if DHS found an appropriate placement for him. The Court issued an order for Simon to be placed closer to home. That happened on March 8, 2019 when he was discharged to the care of his grandmother. She had known as of February that she would be taking him but she was delayed in getting certified on March 20, 2019.
An independent psychologist was hired who concluded that Simon should be continued to be maintained in a placement where he would receive treatment and services and an independent sexual behavioral therapist. As of April 9, 2019, Simon has not received any treatment.
Simon was removed from his home three different times, in a foster care or therapeutic residential facility for a total of 38 months with eight different settings. He was, at the time of the complaint, in his 58th month under DHS care.
Ruth T, a 15-year-old who entered DHS custody in the spring of 2017, is currently in Iowa in a residential facility called Forest Ridge. She entered foster care with her brother after her mom died of an overdose while Ruth was in the home. She had been left in charge of the home and her brother. Multiple times she was left in the care of drug dealers while her parents abandoned her by not being physically present. DHS suspects that she was sexually abused.
Ruth was placed with her maternal grandmother who received licensing when Ruth entered the custody of DHS. At the time of her mother’s death, Ruth had only been attending school a few hours each day because of her poor socialization and behavioral issues. The rural school she was in was unable to provide services tailored for her to be in class.
Ruth had no psychiatric evaluation until she was with her grandmother for six months. DHS policy is that all children are evaluated within 60 days of being placed. “The evaluator noted that ‘there was a profound object hunger and attention-seeking, most of it negative, loud or demanding, for this clearly lonely, needy, regressed youngster who came across in the interview as one might expect of a child of six or 7, not a young lady of over the age 14. Ruth presented as ‘desperate to be noticed but with no social skills […] with clearly pathologically deficient social skills, a pathological degree of insecure anxiety, and pathological needs for control of immediate interpersonal situations.”
This evaluator provided a list of recommendations for DHS to assist both therapeutically and academically. A plan was developed to transfer Ruth to long-term therapeutic foster care. This was to work on intensive behavioral reconditioning with regards to issues related to authority and boundaries. However, the complaint states, DHS didn’t ensure that Ruth received the treatment. Her unaddressed dysfunctional behaviors continued. DHS was notified by her school that they were unable to work with her any further and a plan was made to home school.
In March 2018, Ruth was re-evaluated. It was stated that her childhood was traumatic at worst. Her most outstanding characteristics are disrespectful speech and attitude, extreme social impulsiveness and inappropriateness. It was recommended that Ruth receive three specific courses of behavioral therapy. Once again, DHS did not implement these recommendations.
April 2018: Ruth said her grandmother hit her and she was removed from the home to Creekside, which is six hours away. Creekside is a refurbished police department facility. Now Ruth is in Forest Ridge in Iowa whose residents display behaviors such as unusual diagnoses, sexualized behaviors, fire setting, and extreme violent acts.
Forest Ridge specializes in gender responsive services for adolescent girls in the juvenile system and uses restraints on their charges. It costs $320 a day or $120,450 annually. Ruth is only visited once a month by a courtesy worker from Iowa DHS.
Bernard C., a transgender, is another 15-year-old in DHS custody since he was three. He was adopted with his sister by his great-grandparents in 2008. His great-grandpa passed away in 2009 and his great-grandma in 2012. At that time, DHS placed the children back in their mother’s care.
He reentered foster care in 2013 at 10 years old when reports were made to DHS of his mother abusing him physically and his brother abusing him sexually. There were also allegations of substance abuse and violence in the home.
He entered placement in December 2013. He had a goal of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA). However, he was placed in two foster homes within the first month.
Bernard entered into the DHS system with extensive trauma. He has flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and occasional nightmares. In 2015, a psychologist noted that Bernard was probably emotionally abused and neglected.
Bernard, despite being transgender, had been placed at an all-girls facility, Wildflowers through Whiteshield. In five years under DHS care, Bernard has been in 12-15 different foster homes, at least 7 residential facilities, experienced rejection from short term foster families due to being transgender, and does not have his birth name guarded. Bernard states he feels triggered when he is called by the wrong pronoun or name.
Bernard is currently in River Rock, which is a shelter facility in the Douglas County juvenile detention center. When children come into River Rock, they are subject to a strip search and a search of their belongings. They are only allowed to take daily cold showers and they are locked in their cells at night without a bathroom.
Bernard’s schooling has been constantly interrupted. Currently, he attends three hours a day of alternative school and is worried that this, along with his being institutionalized will not prepare him to live on his own when he ages out of the foster care system soon.
Bernard had been taking a weekly testosterone injection over the last 2 years. In the month he has been at River Rock, he has only been given one injection, which leads to immediate withdrawal symptoms. He has already started to experience hot flashes. At River Rock, he is only allowed to dress in sweatpants and t-shirts known as “jailhouse garb.”
Bernard also has not been receiving his anti-depressant medication. He has a history of suicidal thoughts and has done self-harm such as cutting. This is further compounded by losing his transgender therapist and the support offered. His frequent placements have also delayed his receiving gender conforming surgery.
Naomi B. is a 16-year-old that has been under DHS custody since November 2018. She had been living with her father and was being treated with anti-depressants for agoraphobia and depression.
November 14, 2018 Naomi went to the ER threatening to commit suicide. The ER recommended therapy only to have her father object. She was back at the ER the next week when she cut her arm with a razor. Although never officially admitted, she was in the ER for 6 days. The hospital recommended that she not return home and instead be placed in foster care. DHS couldn’t find a placement for her so she was placed at the Jackson Street youth shelter which is a homeless shelter. Despite the hospital recommending that Naomi get outpatient mental health treatment and see her primary care doctor, neither was done during the 15 days at Jackson Street.
On December 13, Naomi was moved to Creekside where she was attacked by another resident the first day she was there. That evening when Naomi was locked in her room, her roommate cut her wrists, attempting suicide right in front of her. This led to Naomi running away and getting picked up by police.
Naomi was next placed at River Rock in the Douglas County juvenile detention center. She was strip-searched on entering and her belongings searched. Naomi didn’t want to return to Creekside so she stated she was overwhelmed and “didn’t want to be around anymore.” This resulted in her being held in a cell until she was moved to the hospital emergency room. She told the staff that being at Creekside triggered her PTSD. She was again placed at Jackson Street youth shelter for four days receiving no mental health treatment or services.
Naomi previously provided DHS with the names of three families she had believed she could live with. DHS did not contact any of them. Her attorney prompted DHS to place her with one of the families but it only lasted 10 days and she was placed in Jackson Street for the third time.
During a hearing January 8 and 9, 2019, she asked to live with her mom in Idaho but the court denied this and DHS was given custody of her. She was placed at Jackson Street for the fifth time. At this point, Naomi ran away to live with her mom in Idaho. She was picked up by local law enforcement and placed in juvenile detention for two days, then transported back to Jackson Street.
Youth Inspiration Program is a rehabilitation program which is designed as the most intensive service for those girls who are at risk of going to the state youth correctional facilities, the last step before jail. Even though Naomi had no history of becoming that sort of risk, on January 23, 2019 she was placed there. At YIP, if you are deemed to be a safety risk, no personal possessions are allowed; at-risk youth are permitted to have one book in their room.
Naomi has been unable to maintain her education. She is only allowed one to three hours of schooling online a day. She has no access to counseling or therapy but is required to attend daily group substance abuse and sex abuse sessions. Naomi is not subject to either issue.
DHS has contracts with Klamath Basin Behavioral Health (KBBH) and they have prescribed Naomi Trazadone, Zoloft and Risperdal which is used to “treat schizophrenia in adults and children who are at least 13 years old as well as symptoms of bipolar disorder in adults and children who are at least 10 years old. Upon information and belief, the Risperdal was not prescribed by a psychiatrist but by a ‘qualified mental health provider. KBBH was recently sued by two former therapists who claimed that they were fired after blowing the whistle on illegal mental health hold practices.”
YIP uses “behavior interventions with children to help them learn how to self-regulate. If the girls were found to exhibit ‘good behavior’ in the program, they were allowed to wear dresses on Friday and were supplied with tampons during their monthly cycles. Otherwise they were required to use sanitary napkins.” After bringing this policy to her lawyer, the Director of YIP has now granted girls the access to three free tampons at a time if they turned over their used ones.
Norman N. is a 17-year-old who has been in and out of DHS care since November 2005. He was removed from his home when he was two and a half years old due to his parents’ drug use and his dad’s verbal abuse. He was returned to his dad’s care five times with the last removal in November 2012 during a standard welfare check. He was found home alone with his two younger siblings and drug paraphernalia.
Since he was put into the custody of DHS, he has had 50 placements that have taken its toll on him. He has already suffered from trauma, abuse, neglect and anger issues. An evaluation in 2013 states that Norman “has an extensive history of trauma, including neglect, physical and emotional abuse, witnessing parental substance abuse, and suspected sexual abuse.”
Norman also has ADHD and PTSD and has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that, along with medications, are supposed to help with his behavior in the classroom related to his disabilities.
It was recommended that Norman receive “consistent mental health treatment” since he was two years old. The placements in multiple foster homes, hotel rooms and at least four facilities have made it impossible for him to receive this treatment. Norman has even spent time in detention because he ran away from the foster homes to be with his mom. Norman is a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and has been denied the ability to practice his heritage since he is currently in St. Mary’s Home for Boys. An example of practicing his heritage is to grow out his hair but a rule at St. Mary’s will not allow that.
Norman has had issues while being placed in foster care. After the final removal from his father, he was placed with his two younger siblings who had never been in foster care and he felt very protective of them. Behavioral outbursts resulted in him being removed and separated from his brothers. A dirty home situation caused him to run away. Upon returning for his belongings, he was denied access to them and became angry. He damaged property and was placed on probation and has to repay the value of the damaged property. During his placement at Christian Community Placement Center (CCPC), he was not allowed a weekly visit with his mom if he hadn’t showered, cleaned his room, woke up on time or followed other strict rules.
Norman was placed at Northwest Children’s Home in Idaho in September 2017, for 10 months. The complaint states that he described children placed in restraints and locked in seclusion rooms. Norman himself had abrasions on his arms and joints that were dislocated from the restraints. The complaint alleges that “once, while Norman was being restrained by staff members, multiple other youth assaulted Norman. Staff did not protect Norman from the assault and his nose was broken.”
Norman has a goal of APPLA. He does not feel he has acquired the skills and resources to survive on his own once he ages out of foster care. DHS has begun to plan with Norman’s mother as a resource when he turns 18, even though she has issues with substance abuse and can’t maintain a stable housing situation. Even though both hope this will be successful, Norman will need help from DHS to make sure he can survive as an adult on his own.
Any discussion of solutions for this badly managed system of necessity must look closely at the kinds of horrors our kids are enduring. The longer we delay true solutions, the longer these children are being tortured by apathy to their situation and by failure of our state’s managers. There is no excuse to delay fundamental changes, regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit.
We will discuss the specifics of the Complaint in our next column on the Oregon Department of Human Services.