In April, advocacy groups A Better Childhood and Disability Rights Oregon filed suit against the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS). The advocacy groups allege the Department re-victimizes children in its care, and has failed to address documented problems for over a decade.
The state has now filed a motion seeking dismissal, asserting the state is already fixing its child welfare system, and that there is no need for a federal judge to oversee the state’s decisions concerning foster care. An attempt to settle the matter stalled earlier this summer.
In turn, a response was filed on Thursday, maintaining that the state has still “demonstrated that it is a constitutionally inadequate parent to the most vulnerable children in its care.” The advocacy groups filing the class action suit seek to have the state’s foster care system restructured, and believe a judge needs to provide oversight, citing the state’s track record.
According to OPB, Marcia Lowry, the executive director of A Better Childhood said, “At this point, given the history of what’s happened to foster kids in Oregon, it’s way too late for the state to say, ‘Trust us.’”
This is not the first time DHS has been the subject of a class-action lawsuit. In 2016, the department was sued in an effort to have them end the practice of placing foster kids in hotel rooms and state offices, which DHS finally agreed to phase out by 2020.
The current suit was filed on behalf of 10 plaintiffs, all current Oregon foster children at the time, ranging from age 1 to 17. The suit is titled Wyatt B. v. Brown, and includes all Oregon foster children in the custody of DHS. Oregon Governor Kate Brown, then Oregon Department of Human Services Director Fariborz Pakseresht, Child Welfare Director Marilyn Jones, and DHS are all named as defendants.
What happened to Corvallis 16-year-old, Naomi?
When the suit was originally filed, we reported on the case of Naomi B. from Corvallis, then age 16. She spent five months shuffling between homeless shelters and institutions. Some of these institutions were actually jail facilities being repurposed for foster care placements.
The suit alleges that Naomi entered foster care in November 2018 after twice ending up at Good Samaritan Hospital’s emergency room threatening suicide. DHS concluded Naomi could not safely stay with her father, but they could not find her placement. So, with the consent of Naomi’s father, she was placed in Jackson Street Youth Shelter for the first of what would be seven times.
Then, in December, Naomi was sent to Creekside, a former police department headquarters that has been modified to care for foster children. On her first day, Naomi was attacked by another resident. The suit also alleges Naomi would then witness her roommate being placed in a locked cell, where she would then slit her wrists.
After placement at another juvenile detention center and a failed placement at the home of a family friend, Naomi ended up going back to the Jackson Street homeless shelter. The suit alleges that up to this point, Naomi had still not received adequate counseling or therapy.
Notably, the complaint asserts Naomi has no history of substance abuse.
But, at the end of January Naomi was placed at the Youth Inspiration Program (YIP) in Klamath Falls. Dubbed an addiction treatment center, the locked facility is a repurposed juvenile detention facility with concrete floors and walls. According to the complaint, Naomi was not allowed outside the facility. Instead, she was escorted to a 30-by-30 foot concrete outdoor exercise yard, which was enclosed by a 20-foot-tall fence topped by barbed wire.
The suit also alleges Naomi was only permitted one book in her rooms at a time, and all clothes and other personal items were secured in a separate locker room. The suit maintains Naomi’s education suffered. She was only allowed one-and-a-half to two-and-a half hours of online education daily, exhausting the facility’s educational offerings over the course of two months.
She was given just one hour of therapy a week. Conversely, Naomi was required to attend mandatory daily group substance abuse and sex abuse therapy sessions, despite no problem with substance use, or history of sex abuse.
OREGON’S OWN AUDIT ADMITS A MESS
A report from the state this year revealed the number of available foster homes continues to decline and caseworker turnover remains high, says the filing.
“These systemic problems are compounded by the fact that the State’s Director of Child Welfare Programs resigned in June of this year and a permanent replacement has not been made,” the filing reads. “The ship is sailing in the wrong direction and without a captain.”
STILL, OREGON’S OWN REPORTS CAN’T BE TRUSTED
The advocacy groups also assert the state “continues to demonstrate that it cannot be trusted to assess its own performance.”
For instance, Oregon’s Child Welfare issued a report stating children were excelling academically at a facility in Utah where most of Oregon’s out-of-state foster youth were sent. However, Utah’s own Department of Human Services sounded an alarm bell, and the facility is being closed amid reports of abuse and child neglect.
The advocacy groups most recent filing expresses their belief that Oregon’s foster care system cannot be trusted to evaluate itself, let alone fix its deficiencies without oversight.
– By Andy Thompson