Auditors: Problems at DHS ‘jeopardize’ at-risk kids

Secretary of State candidate Dennis Richardson. His office's audit found Oregon's Department of Human Services has been “slow, indecisive and inadequate” in addressing chronic and well-documented problems in the state's foster care system. notfordale

SALEM — Oregon’s Child Welfare program is “inconsistent, disorganized and high risk for the children it serves,” state auditors say.

Oregon’s Department of Human Services, which oversees the child welfare program, has been “slow, indecisive and inadequate” in addressing chronic and well-documented problems in the state’s foster care system, according to an audit released by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office Wednesday.

Since 2011, more than 11,000 Oregon kids have been placed into foster care annually, with an average of about 7,600 kids in foster care on any given day.

Foster care is part of the department’s child welfare program, and often serves children who are victims of abuse and neglect. Auditors focused on foster care in the 85-page report released Wednesday, but also found higher-level management and staffing problems at DHS child welfare.

Here are their key findings:

• Management has failed to implement prior reform recommendations.

• Foster parents don’t get enough training or support.

• DHS has failed to adequately recruit and retain foster parents.

• There aren’t enough group homes or treatment facilities to meet needs for kids taken out of their family homes.

• Burnout and turnover are high among child welfare workers.

All of these problems pose a risk to kids’ safety, auditors say.

The report from the Secretary of State’s Office also makes a raft of recommendations that auditors say could improve management, understaffing and the lack of suitable foster parents.

In a response, DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht said he agreed with all 24 recommendations. Pakseresht, the former director of the Oregon Youth Authority, has been at the helm of the agency since September.

It’s not the first time that the state has identified chronic problems in the DHS child welfare program.

In 2015, in the wake of a scandal at Portland foster care provider Give Us This Day, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown solicited an independent review of Child Welfare that was published the next year.

Management at DHS hasn’t implemented those recommendations, which said the agency needed to fix “foundational issues” as well as “operational problems,” auditors say.

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