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Audit finds Oregon foster care needs more money, culture fix

Pixabay _ Guian Bolisay / CC BY-SA 2.0 - MGN image

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An audit of the agency that oversees Oregon's foster care system found overwhelming staff case loads, fewer foster homes and children spending weeks in hotels, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson said.

Richardson said Wednesday that such children "need secure and appropriate placements with well-supported foster families."

According to the audit the Department of Human Services and Child Welfare has a "dysfunctional" culture that contributes to high staff and executive turnover and a lack of accountability. The probe also found that available foster homes had declined by 15 percent since 2011.

Auditors recommended changing the agency culture, increasing the number of case workers and adding more resources.

There are more than 11,000 children and teenagers in Oregon's foster care system.

Oregon Department of Human Services issued the following statements in response to the audit:

"We appreciate the audit's recommendations and the attention it helps bring to such important issues. Under Governor Brown's leadership, DHS is already moving forward in many of these areas to improve outcomes for Oregon's children, and we have made significant progress in the last six to nine months since the audit research took place."

"The report highlights the impact of chronic understaffing, one of our agency's greatest challenges, which has led to high turnover and other problems in the agency. It also emphasizes the need to improve management practices and change our agency culture to one of empowerment to do our best for our children and our communities.

"When I started in my role as DHS director in September, the Governor made it clear to me that she expects every child in foster care to be safe. As part of that, she has directed us to focus on recruiting and retaining foster parents and case workers, and to create a better culture of support for them. She expects results and outcomes and we will be reporting to her on those monthly.

"We are tackling the root cause of these issues, not just the symptoms. Data is a key part of our efforts, both leveraging existing data to highlight areas of improvement, and arming our caseworkers with the ability to interpret it. We are improving our systems and the management of those systems.

As we respond to issues articulated in the audit, we are also building the foundation to deliver sustained outcomes and results according to our vision of safety, independence and health for all Oregonians."

--Fariborz Pakseresht, DHS director

"Work has already begun that addresses the audit recommendations. As we move forward and continue our efforts to better partner with communities and to better support existing foster families and staff in the field, we will report to the Governor, the Legislature and the public with timelines and expectations for our performance.

"Our staff is dedicated and eager to help find solutions to the problems that affect our ability to serve children and families, and we are taking every available action to increase our support for our staff who work so hard to make sure Oregon's children are safe. Our caseworkers and supervisors are committed and resilient and are helping children stay safe and reunite with their families when possible; or to be adopted when that is the best option. In 2017, a total of 2,134 kids left foster care to be reunited with their parents and 673 were adopted. We should celebrate our successes even as we acknowledge our problems."

--Marilyn Jones, Child Welfare director

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