Gov. Brown Ignored Problems with Foster Children Housing
A shortage of foster homes left dozens of vulnerable children alone in hotel rooms, but Governor Brown and DHS ignored the problem until a lawsuit forced their hand. Now they’re promising to fix the problem – but not for two years.
Oregon officials have agreed to drastically reduce by mid-2020 their use of hotels and other unsuitable settings as short-term homes for foster children.
The state’s child welfare program in desperation has increasingly relied upon hotels, state offices and even youth detention centers to shelter children in recent years. The main reason: Child welfare officials didn’t come up with enough foster parents willing and trained to care for the many Oregon children removed from their parents.
Now, under a settlement agreement announced Tuesday, child welfare officials committed to house no more than 24 children a year in hotels starting July 1, 2020 and to limit the length of their stays.
It’s an ambitious goal, given the scope of the problem outlined in a scathing audit released last month. State auditors found caseworkers placed 189 children in hotels and other temporary housing when they could not find suitable foster homes between September 2016 and July 2017.
The final settlement also calls for the state to consider leaving children in homes that caseworkers might otherwise deem unsafe, if a caseworker visits the child on a daily basis or a contractor stays in the home overnight.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reported more than three weeks ago that the state was considering such a provision as part of its deal to settle a lawsuit brought on behalf of foster children assigned to sleep in state offices and hotels.
According to the agreement, the state human services agency “will only temporarily lodge a foster child or young adult after determining there is no possibility of supporting the foster child or young adult in a family member’s home with appropriate safety planning” or in other homes or facilities in the foster care system.
State child welfare officials previously considered eliminating the use of hotels completely, which would have been challenging given the state’s severe shortage of good foster homes, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Although the final agreement gives the state a bit of leeway to use hotels, it will still test the state’s ability to recruit new foster parents.
The new limits on temporary housing are five nights for children from infancy to age 10, 12 nights for children ages 11 to 17 and 21 nights for young adults in state care, according to the settlement. There are limited exceptions, for example if the state has arranged a foster home for a child and it would be more disruptive to move the child to another short-term placement in the interim. The state must also transport children to the school where they are enrolled and provide appropriate activities for children during their hotel stays.
The settlement agreement grew out of a federal lawsuit filed in 2016 on behalf of two children the state housed in hotels. CASA for Children, a nonprofit whose court-appointed volunteers advocate for individual children in the foster system, also joined the children in suing the state.
According to the lawsuit, the state used hotels and other temporary options to house a disproportionate share of children with mental disabilities including behavioral and psychiatric impairments. That practice violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state anti-discrimination and child welfare laws, according to lawyers for the two girls who were 6 and 4 years old when the lawsuit was filed.
“State child welfare officials and children’s advocates agreed that we all want to see children placed in stable and safe home-like settings that are close to their family and school,” said Richard Vangelisti, guardian ad litem for the girls, in a statement released Tuesday.
Under the agreement, the state will hire former Multnomah County human services director Liesl Wendt as a technical adviser to conduct an initial evaluation of the root causes of the child welfare program’s reliance on hotels and other temporary placements. She will then help the state implement changes to address those underlying problems. Wendt can be paid up to $250,000 annually, including reimbursements for expenses, the agreement says.