New reports and court filings seem to support the claim that Oregon’s foster care system is in the middle of a crisis. A renewed $24 million lawsuit filed against the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and a report on the conditions of foster facilities in Utah are the latest in a growing set of serious allegations against the Oregon agency.
Multiple reports have emerged over the past few months alleging mistreatment of Oregon foster youth who are sent to private, out-of-state institutions, and regular hearings in the Capitol have highlighted deep tensions between lawmakers and agency officials.
The lawsuit claims ODHS neglected eight years’ of warnings from case workers and foster parents when they made an “emergency placement” of a 13-year-old boy with a long history of sexually abusive behavior into a foster home with six other foster youth. The boy is accused of sexually abusing two girls in that home, ages 5 and 7. The state of Oregon admitted in court filings in November 2018 that they should never have placed this boy in that foster home. The suit seeks $24.3 million in damages from DHS.
Last week, two reports were released about the quality of care at the Red Rock Canyon School in St. George, Utah, where two dozen Oregon foster youth are housed. Each painted vastly different pictures of the facility.
A report from Oregon Child Welfare officials emphasized the availability of yoga and small spaces near their beds which can be personalized. A report from the Utah Department of Human Services, released the day before the Oregon report, described staff “humiliating and degrading residents,” including holding one in a chokehold until they passed out. The Red Rock Canyon School made news in April when a local SWAT was sent in to suppress a riot at the facility, including reports that SWAT was pointing firearms at foster youth. The state of Utah has placed the Red Rock Canyon School’s license on “conditional status” until the issues in their report are addressed. Red Rock Canyon School is owned by national for-profit Sequel Youth Services, the company involved in initial reports of abusing foster youth earlier this year.
In response to the news of the Utah report, Oregon Child Welfare spokesperson responded to reporters that “we are drafting a letter to Sequel leadership to formally express our concerns.”
By Ian MacRonald