Oregon’s child foster care program, run by the Department of Human Services, has critical problems that endanger some of the state’s most vulnerable, as Oregonians learned from a state audit January 2018. While Oregonians deserved more action to address the situation during the 2018 legislative session, House Bill 3012 in the 2019 Legislature is a step in the right direction.

HB 3012 directs DHS to study ways to improve the foster care system and report back to the Legislature by September. By itself, that’s a good step, but it can, and should, be made better. The bill focuses on reducing the number of children in care, reducing caseloads for those who oversee children in the program, and deciding how much money it would take to attract more would-be foster parents and reduce turnover rates.

It does not address structural problems within the department, however, and it does not require an independent contractor to study the system and base recommendations on what the contractor finds. Without carefully thought-out changes within the department, it’s unlikely the system will get much better, and an independent study is more likely to be able to see and address problems those close to the situation might not. Lawmakers should consider amending HB 3012 to require an outside, not inside, look at the situation.

At least two other measures before lawmakers deal with the foster care system.

House Bill 3013 would grant free college tuition and fees to natural children of foster families. The grants would be calculated on a sliding scale — the longer a family had cared for foster children, the greater the percentage of tuition and fees covered.

House Bill 3015 would add former foster children who were adopted to a law granting college tuition and fees to foster children.

The state pays foster parents a sum that’s less than what the U.S. Department of Agriculture says is the cost of raising a child in the western United States. That makes coming up with money for college for any children, natural, adopted or foster, difficult. Paying college tuition and fees helps assure those children won’t be disadvantaged when it comes to higher education.

The Legislature should pass these three bills.