Chronic management failures and high caseloads have meant Oregon’s Department of Human Services (DHS) has jeopardized the safety of children in the foster care system.
In 2015, DHS paid out the largest state settlement at the time, $15 million to nine children who were placed with a Salem foster father who abused them. This year the agency agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle another alleged case of abuse. There are many more bleak tales of the state’s failures. About 6,000 children are in the state’s system on any given day.
In January, a state audit identified 24 areas that DHS needed to improve. DHS embraced the recommendations and said it was committed to moving forward.
A month ago we asked Oregon’s Department of Human Services for detail about the progress it was making. We were told again and again that answers were coming. We have received nothing.
One of the 24 audit recommendations was about changing the DHS culture. DHS committed to developing a team that “will understand the need for transparency, strong and open communication and offering high levels of support while asking for high levels of accountability.”
Shouldn’t that apply to being transparent with the public about the progress it is making? Apparently not.
DHS has posted two progress reports to the governor on its website. They are useful — as far as they go. They show a few areas of progress and others of no improvement. One goal is that the agency reduce the number of children subjected to being abused again within a year of being abused. The April report to the governor did not show improvement on that metric.
Those reports, though, are incomplete. They don’t give substantial updates on all of the 24 areas identified in the audit. For instance, has DHS managed to reduce the number of foster children it houses in hotels?
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson told us his office is committed to doing a follow-up audit in 2019. That’s great. But Oregonians should not have to wait that long for DHS to explain how it’s doing. These vulnerable children deserve better.