Oregon’s broken foster care system continues to make headlines, the most recent story details a heated legislative hearing in which a key senator said she has lost confidence in the state Department of Human Services.
In response, the agency’s latest director complained about “public shaming sessions” and said staff members are “breaking their back” to ensure children are safe. Meanwhile, a national advocacy group has sued the state on behalf of 10 child plaintiffs, seeking class-action status to represent all 8,000 children in the Oregon system and asking for a court order forcing the state to fix the problems.
Two days after the lawsuit was filed, Gov. Kate Brown weighed in with an executive order creating a Child Welfare Oversight Board to develop solutions and a crisis management team to implement them.
Governor, that ship has sailed.
The lawsuit lists horrifying details of neglect and abuse suffered by children supposedly under the state’s protection:
A brother and sister, ages 7 and 8, who were in foster care for less than two months but were in four and five placements respectively. They had lice when they entered the system but waited more than a month for treatment because caseworkers did not give their insurance information to foster parents.
A 13-year-old boy who suffered physical abuse, allegedly by his father, resulting in 35 reports to the state. State workers left him in a home despite reports he was being sexually abused by another boy living there, and he began defecating in his pants at school to protect himself from the other child, who was a schoolmate.
A 17-year-old Native American boy in and out of the system since 2005 who has been moved 50 times. He has never lived with any foster family who is a member of his tribe. And he’s about to “age out” of the system.
These are only a few examples.
Brown told reporters last week, “We all in this state bear responsibility for what is happening in our foster care system.”
Yes, but as the state’s chief executive, the governor bears ultimate responsibility for fixing a system that is failing the children it serves on a daily basis. Those children cannot wait for an oversight board to “develop solutions.”
As Marcia Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, the nonprofit that filed the lawsuit, said of Brown’s plan, “It’s too little, too late.”
Her organization wants a court order to force immediate action. The state’s lawyers, however, want Brown removed as a defendant in the case.
If Brown is serious about fixing the problems, she will direct state officials to settle the lawsuit as quickly as possible, and agree to do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of all of Oregon’s children.
Anything less is unacceptable.