SALEM — Oregon child welfare officials knew in 2009 the Portland foster care program Give Us This Day was operating without a license and was staffed entirely by people with criminal records.
Still, the Oregon Department of Human Services allowed Give Us This Day to continue operating without the necessary residential care license. It was unclear from state records how long the situation persisted, and DHS was unable to provide an answer Wednesday afternoon.
Emails released by the Oregon Department of Human Services reveal top DHS officials knew of problems at the program much earlier than previously reported. The records also show Give Us This Day operated outside the state’s licensing rules, and went over the heads of licensing staff to deal directly with the director of the agency, Dr. Bruce Goldberg. The agency released the emails in response to a public records request from state Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis.
“Our staff have been working with them to try and help them obtain a license to provide residential care (they already are providing such care without a license),” child welfare administrator Erinn Kelley-Siel wrote in a February 2009 email. At the time, Kelley-Siel was director of the agency’s Child Welfare, Self Sufficiency and Vocational Rehabilitation programs. She was promoted to the position of director in 2011, when Goldberg left.
Kelley-Siel had other concerns about the program, which she listed in the email to Goldberg.
“At a site visit last week, numerous concerns arose (on top of the fact they aren’t licensed) — the most serious of which is that every single staff person has a criminal record and their program design does not address the issues that come with that,” Kelley-Siel wrote.
Goldberg did not appear to have replied to Kelley-Siel’s email, based on the records released by DHS.
At the time, Give Us This Day had a state license to operate as an academic boarding school. Mary Holden, executive director of the program, told DHS licensing staff that she and the board of Give Us This Day had already gone to the top to negotiate the issue, and was discussing it with Goldberg. Holden refused even to apply for the correct residential license and was still operating without one in May 2009, when DHS employees learned that someone was suing Give Us This Day and had filed a public records request for the program’s licensing file.
On June 1, 2009, Kelley-Siel asked Goldberg in an email whether she should personally inform Holden and then-state Sen. Margaret Carter, a board member at Give Us This Day and Portland Democrat, about the lawsuit and public records request.
Goldberg responded, “seems to me you should give them a heads up.”
Goldberg was director of DHS from 2005 through February 2011, when then-Gov. John Kitzhaber tapped Goldberg to lead the Oregon Health Authority. Goldberg resigned in 2014 following the state’s health insurance exchange fiasco, and now works for Oregon Health & Science University’s Center for Health Systems Effectiveness. Goldberg could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Carter said although she was a Give Us This Day board member at the time, “in terms of being an active board member, where I actually knew what was going on in terms of day-to-day operations, not at all.” She also did not recall DHS employees calling her about the lawsuit or records request. “I don’t recall that conversation about public records,” Carter said.
Holden also complained that DHS was enforcing stricter rules than she previously experienced regarding prohibitions against child abusers working with children.
“As far as I know, the old rules allowed individuals to work with kids in residential, if they were supervised and had a lower level child abuse record,” Holden wrote in a March 2009 email to DHS.
Even when Give Us This Day obtained a residential license, DHS sent children to the program who were not allowed to be there under the license. In August 2010, Holden complained in an email to DHS that while the program’s license only covered children ages six to 17, the state has sending younger children to the program and then abruptly removing them. In one case, a child as young as 18 months and a three-year-old sibling were briefly placed at Give Us This Day, according to emails between DHS licensing employees. DHS employee Meg Hopkins wrote in an email that Give Us This Day employees had been visiting DHS branches to promote their program and “from what I can tell all kids are going to (Give Us This Day) ...”
Give Us This Day shut down in September, under a settlement agreement with the Oregon Department of Justice.
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group. Hillary Borrud can be reached at 503-364-4431 or email@example.com.