SALEM, Ore. — Caseworkers strained to the breaking point, a drop in available foster homes for 11,000 youngsters and management shortcomings were cited as serious problems in an audit released Wednesday by the Oregon secretary of state.
“This is a statewide problem. This isn’t a problem for the governor to fix, not a problem for the Legislature just to fix. It’s our problem. These are our children,” said Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who along with his wife adopted a girl 27 years ago.
The dwindling supply of suitable foster homes and residential facilities has led to some children spending days and weeks in hotels. Foster parents often have limited training, support and resources, the 59-page report said.
The Department of Human Services’ response to these problems “has been slow, indecisive and inadequate,” the report said.
Compounding the problems: The Department of Human Services lacks crucial data on how many foster placements are needed and the capacity of current foster homes, the report said.
Jamie Ralls the principal auditor, underscored that point when asked by a reporter what was driving 11,000 children into the foster care system.
“Statewide, there’s an opioid crisis, and DHS is not tracking the data that they need to, to be able to determine that,” Ralls said at a news conference with Richardson.
She said a judge in southern Oregon has seen children, even babies, coming into the system addicted to opioids, and found an alarmingly increase.
“If you start studying the statistics of whose coming in and what makes up the characteristics of those children coming in, you could get some answers, but DHS doesn’t currently have that date,” Ralls said.
In 2016, caseworker turnover was 23 percent, meaning that those who remained on the job had to take on more work until replacements could be found.
About one-third of Child Welfare staff members are in their first 18 months on the job.
Bridget Rayburn, a 24-year-old caseworker with Child Protective Services, told auditors that after only one year, she already feels she is burning out.
“It’s the workload,” Rayburn said. “You can’t even keep track of it all.”
She said she does works for Child Protective Services to help children, but that she and colleagues feel the workload is too huge, depriving the children of the proper amount of attention. Half of the members of her unit are looking for other jobs.
“Someone cries at their desk every day,” Rayburn said. “Not because of trauma. Because they’re overwhelmed with work.”
Fariborz Pakseresht, who took over as director of the Department of Human Services in September, replacing the previous director who retired after only two years in the position, said he would improve the culture at the department, focus the whole department on child safety, adopt data-driven decision making and increase staffing resources.
“We need to tackle the root causes of these issues, not just the symptoms,” Pakseresht wrote in a response to the audit.
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