Report: Children repeatedly left in unsafe homes by case workers who claim they're safe

KATU file image

A new report says dozens of children found living in unsafe conditions were left there by state case workers who wrongly determined the kids were safe.

The director of Oregon's Department of Human Services (DHS) says he's reviewing the study commissioned by his agency and admits the department needs to change.

The DHS assessment was first reported by the Oregonian.

After a teen foster child died last year, DHS asked consultants to randomly review the outcomes of 101 child welfare case decisions.

State Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who chairs the Senate Human Services Committee, told KATU she asked for the report in February and received it last week.

"It uncovered some very troubling information about the lack of safety of kids," said Gelser. "In 47 of the cases where the children had initially been found safe the expert reviewers found that the kids actually were not safe. ... Children being bitten by rats … One where there was a caregiver talking about finding dead bodies and stabbing people and the child herself was attempting to stab relatives and kill pets. Kids that were involved in the car in pretty severe DUI cases. A child found on the lap in the back seat of a sex worker with methamphetamine. They were pretty alarming. A mother who was hallucinating, had access to a firearm and the department not making contact with the child for two months after that report. ... In all of those cases the determination was made that the child was safe, according to the report."

Gelser and DHS say child welfare is underfunded with staffing levels at 83 percent of what they should be.

Gelser also said workers need much more training.

"The blame here does not lie with the case workers at the department," Gelser said. "It lies with me as a legislator, with the Legislature as a whole and the people of Oregon because we have to invest in the outcomes that we want.”

At a Senate Human Services Committee hearing on Monday, DHS Director Clyde Saiki told Gelser and other lawmakers he'd just received the report on Friday.

"Resources are an issue. There's no doubt about it. Daily our case workers have to make decisions about what body of work is gonna get done and what body of work is not gonna get done," Saiki said. "Every single person I work with has that sense of urgency, knows we have a crisis on our hands and works hard every, single day, seven days a week, sometimes 10, 12 hours a day."

Gelser said she sent the report to Saiki but that DHS has had it for a couple of months.

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