Oregon’s foster-care system needs to enter the 21st century.
A scathing audit conducted by the Secretary of State’s Office makes that clear. Caseworkers are overworked and exhausted, foster families are in short supply, and children suffer.
The state Audits Division began the audit a year ago. The results, though disturbing, should not come as a surprise. Oregon’s leaders have long known of the problems, and a series of administrators have promised improvement.
That turnaround finally might be underway. In releasing the audit report, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson criticized the culture and performance of the Oregon Department of Human Services, but he praised its new leadership.
The top administration has been doing such simple but important things as visiting DHS field offices throughout the state, talking firsthand with front-line workers. DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht, who took over in September, and his top managers regularly hold town hall meetings to update and listen to employees, advocates and the public.
The most critical concern is to recruit, train and retain far more caseworkers and foster families. Richardson said the state needs nearly 800 additional caseworkers and related staff. Foster parents deserve higher compensation to cover their costs. And the state’s supposedly state-of-the-art foster care computer system, like other IT projects, is a frustrating mess.
Here on the North Coast, there is a perennial shortage of foster care families. In recent years, The Daily Astorian has reported “it is increasingly difficult to find a foster home in Clatsop County, keep the children in their school district and prevent siblings from getting separated. In some cases, the local Child Welfare District office has had to place foster children in neighboring counties.”
Meanwhile, Texas has a real-time system for tracking available placements for foster children, whereas Oregon too often houses children in hotels while caseworkers send emails desperately seeking an available family.
Oregon state Rep. Knute Buehler, the Bend Republican who is running for governor, responded to the audit by calling for a special bipartisan commission to recommend specific reforms that could be implemented within 90 days.
That is a good idea, even though Pakseresht has accepted the audit report’s recommendations and vowed to follow through. But during the 35-day legislative session that begins Monday, Oregon lawmakers need not wait — they dare not wait — to add caseworkers and help foster children.
This audit report belongs on every legislator’s desk, not on the shelf.
If you think you might be willing to help fill the gap in foster care, call 800-331-0503. A foster care specialist will answer initial questions and provide a contact name of a Department of Human Services worker.
The foster parent is given a stipend and must provide food, shelter, clothing, a sleeping area and other basic necessities. He or she serves as the primary contact for the child’s school, makes day care arrangements and schedules extracurricular activities, and drives them to their medical, counseling and court appointments.
It is a brilliant opportunity to help children in need of compassion and care.