Our Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson, recently released a scathing report of the inadequacies of the Office of Child Welfare. The report summary shows that our foster children and the system that serves them is just plain broken.
“Oregon’s most vulnerable children are being placed into a foster care system that has serious problems. Child welfare workers are burning out and consistently leaving the system in high numbers. The supply of suitable foster homes and residential facilities is dwindling, resulting in some children spending days and weeks in hotels. Foster parents are struggling with limited training, support and resources. Agency management’s response to these problems has been slow, indecisive and inadequate. DHS and child welfare managers have not strategically addressed caseworker understaffing, recruitment and retention of foster homes, and a poorly implemented computer system that leaves caseworkers with inadequate information.”
I am a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). A CASA volunteer is trained, appointed by the court, and committed to ensuring that each child entering the court system, because of abuse and neglect, has a person who makes certain that the child’s needs remain a priority in an over-burdened child welfare system. This is a challenging job. In my work as a CASA I quickly became frustrated with the system. The 3 children who I was appointed to help had been removed from a dangerous drug environment. Once removed they were “lost” in the system. They had 3 different caseworkers in only three weeks. They were placed in a relative’s home that I considered to be unsafe and unsuitable. Try as I might I was not allowed to visit them and I could not do my job. When I questioned those who were responsible for their care I was shuffled aside right along with the children. I knew then that the system was failing.
I am pleased that our Secretary of State chose to take on this audit. However, now the work begins. It is not enough to keep pouring money in to a broken system that does not serve the children. It is not enough to “study” it. We need to take action now.
Child Welfare’s total biennial budget is $1.06 billion, or roughly $500 million per year, half of which comes from the state’s General Fund. On average, there are over 7000 children in foster care. We spend over $72,000 per child per year for sub-standard care.
When I am serving the community in the role of State House Representative I will fight for the children. That does not mean a bigger budget. It means better management and direction. As a CASA, I was overwhelmed with the multiple services offered the families. It seemed excessive. It is called “wrap around services.” As many as 10 different state employees are involved and yet they are stumbling around and over each other. It is time to reevaluate and simplify what we do. The children simply want to feel safe and cared for. They should not be housed in hotels and/or moved around to multiple homes in a few short months. We can fix this but the solutions need to be simple and not bureaucratic.