If Oregonians were expecting to see problems in the state’s foster care system disappear overnight, they’re in for a disappointment. As the Department of Human Services’ July report on child welfare demonstrates, some things are improving; others, not so much.
The foster care program certainly needs to improve. A secretary of state’s 2018 audit of the program made clear Oregon’s foster care system was in disarray, putting children’s safety at risk. A follow-up issued in 2019 showed that while improvements were being made in some areas, serious problems remain.
DHS has been issuing monthly reports to Gov. Kate Brown on its progress. The July update says:
• The agency is still short of foster homes, though the numbers show a mixed bag.
• The total number of foster homes is actually down from a year ago, though it has ticked up each month since March.
• Fewer children are being sent to out-of-state facilities than were a year ago. It will take time to create programs to serve specific groups of children, and the state is working to improve the way it deals with kids who must go elsewhere to receive the services they need.
• Though the agency is working to hire and keep new caseworkers, it’s still losing about half as many as it brings on. It has created a series of videos to give potential hires a realistic view of the job.
• The statewide child abuse reporting line is up and running, though it’s a 24/7 operation in only nine of the agency’s 16 districts. The remaining six will be added as improvements to the system and Child Protective Services are made.
The July report is based on results before the agency’s budget was increased by the Legislature. The new money could help speed improvements up, and that’s good. After all, the wellbeing of some of the state’s most vulnerable residents is at stake.