It’s a question of priorities. The thousands of children in Oregon’s foster care system desperately need help, but the eyes of state leaders and most legislators are focused elsewhere.
In her State of the State address Monday, Gov. Kate Brown spoke at length about a plan to prepare high school students for technical careers, matching training to available jobs. Before the session opened, she and fellow Democrats were pushing plans for a cap-and-invest carbon pollution program. But they have said little about the crisis in foster care.
In contrast, Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, took up the foster care issue in a news conference Monday. Buehler, Brown’s chief opponent for re-election in November, called for $50 million in added funding to carry out recommendations from a highly critical audit of the Department of Human Services.
While we agree with critics who say money alone won’t solve the foster care crisis, Buehler is right to highlight the desperate situation of foster children in this state. Oregon serves an average of 7,600 children in foster care, many of them with severe problems. Money is certainly a critical part of the solution, and might provide a comparatively swift solution to the extreme shortage of caseworkers.
Problems in the foster care system are not new, but a January audit from Secretary of State Dennis Richardson shows the system is failing thousands of children, with problems including:
• Too few foster families — down 18 percent since 2011 — forcing children to move from place to place, sometimes even to end up sleeping in hotels with overworked caseworkers.
• Severely overworked caseworkers with high turnover in a system that the audit says needs 800 more full-time positions.
• Administration that fails to improve the system, not even telling legislators about the extent of under-staffing.
• Payment of $39 million in legal settlements involving abuse and neglect since 2006.
Richardson comes to the issue with a long history, which he detailed in a recent newsletter describing his family taking in a foster child 28 years ago. His moving missive urges an effort like the one launched a decade ago to reform the State Mental Hospital and credits Senate President Peter Courtney with successfully leading that charge.
The state’s foster children need a champion, along with bipartisan support to solve this long-festering disgrace. In a state whose political leadership prides itself on taking care of the underdog, the status quo is a failure beyond belief.