Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has had enough. After more than a year of criticism of the state’s foster care system, she’s stepping in, and in a big way. Good for her.
Problems with the system, which is part of the Department of Human Services, became apparent with the release of a secretary of state’s audit issued in January 2018. The audit noted that the state lacks enough foster families and social workers to ensure that children DHS oversees are kept safe.
The report was hardly the beginning or the end of the bad news. Foster children with serious mental health problems are being sent out of state because treatment is unavailable in Oregon. At least one of them, a 9-year-old girl in a treatment program in Montana, had been drugged to calm her down. Nor are children in out-of-state facilities necessarily being visited by outside observers as they should be. Too, children of color are being sent out of state more frequently than their white counterparts.
Though Brown says the changes have been in the works for at least two weeks, the timing of her announcement could hardly have been better. A lawsuit was filed April 16 against DHS by the national nonprofit A Better Childhood, Disability Rights Oregon and others. The suit alleges the state fails to keep foster children safe.
Brown, a former family lawyer, issued an executive order Thursday creating an oversight board that will meet every other week to direct the agency’s reforms. An on-site crisis management team will ensure those reforms are implemented, and one of the governor’s senior advisors will work directly at DHS to see that all goes well.
Decisive action is clearly what DHS needs, and Brown’s actions are designed to both help shape that action and see that it’s put in place. That’s good news for Oregon’s least fortunate children, the very ones the foster care system is supposed to protect.