Is Oregon Trafficking Children out of State via Their Foster Care System?

Oregon State Marilyn Jones and Sara Gelser

Left: Oregon Child Welfare Director Marilyn Jones (Image source), Right: Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser (Image source.)

Oregon does not have too few foster parents. Oregon has too many foster children.” Richard Wexler, National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News

Oregon has a foster care problem. Too many foster children, and not enough foster homes to put them into.

A 2016 lawsuit was filed against the state for housing foster children in hotels and offices.

Richard Wexler, director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR), states:

Oregon tears children needlessly from their parents at a rate far above the national average.

Since 2017, the rate of foster children being shipped out of Oregon to facilities in other states has more than doubled. Most of these are troubled youth being sent to psychiatric wards. (Source.)

Earlier this year (2019), Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that Oregon was shipping some foster children to facilities known for abuse.

One of those facilities was in Iowa, a facility that Washington state child welfare officials stopped sending foster children to because of allegations of abuse.

Last year, Washington state child welfare officials saw reports about widespread use of restraints and physical abuse at a residential treatment facility in Iowa where they were sending foster care children.

Washington stopped sending children to the for-profit Clarinda Academy.

But some of Oregon’s most vulnerable children are still there.

An October 2018 report by the nonprofit Disability Rights Washington concluded that Washington’s use of out-of-state facilities to house foster children was “creating an unacceptably heightened risk of abuse and neglect” and causing more “harm to youth who have already suffered from multiple, prolonged, or chronic traumatic events.”

In Oregon, the number of children being sent to out-of-state, privately run psychiatric units has more than doubled since 2017. (Source.)

In an investigative report by Troy Brynelson of the Salem Reporter this week (March, 2019), it was revealed that two state Department of Human Services workers in Polk County, a supervisor and a paralegal, “remain on paid leave and stationed at home after the state investigated them for child abuse that involved indecency.”

The incident allegedly happened in Dallas, Texas. Brynelson reports:

Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton told Salem Reporter he received the report of misconduct last fall and turned it over to the Oregon Department of Justice and Oregon State Police.

“I asked for an independent, outside counsel to investigate probable criminal charges and for the (Department of Justice) to step in to do that because of a conflict of interest, because of the Polk County connection,” he said.

Recently released state records show state prosecutors decided not to charge a supervisor and a paralegal at the agency’s Dallas field office, and the two have been working from home since late November.

Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton told Salem Reporter he received the report of misconduct last fall and turned it over to the Oregon Department of Justice and Oregon State Police.

Records show the two were investigated for first-degree official misconduct, endangering the welfare of a minor and private indecency.

Under Oregon law, endangering the welfare of a minor involves exposing a minor to sexual conduct, to illegal drugs or to gambling. Private indecency occurs when a person inappropriately exposes his or her own genitals.

Although the two were placed on paid administrative leave, the charges were allegedly dropped:

On March 15, the Department of Justice informed Felton via letter the department would not prosecute.

“We determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt. We are closing our file in this matter,” wrote Senior Assistant Attorney General Kurt Miller. (Source.)

In a follow up report published yesterday, Troy Brynelson of the Salem Reporter writes that attorney David Kramer is representing the foster youth, and in a tort claim the attorney states that the two state workers had sex in a bed in the same hotel room where the foster boy was kept:

Just days before Thanksgiving last year, a juvenile was taken to a hotel in Dallas and fell asleep.

As he slept, a state worker assigned to care for him overnight invited another worker to come over. The two started having sex in a bed next to the sleeping boy.

According to a tort claim filed with the state last week, the boy woke to what was happening. He was threatened and told to not tell what he had seen.

Salem attorney David Kramer, now representing the juvenile, said in his tort claim that the boy was moved to a juvenile detention facility and remains in state custody. Such a claim alerts the state that it may be sued, affording a chance for state officials to resolve claims short of a lawsuit.

Those details emerged after Salem Reporter reported the state Justice Department investigated the two workers for first-degree official misconduct, endangering the welfare of a minor and private indecency but decided not to prosecute.

The state has had a practice of putting children into motels with state workers when agency officials can’t locate a foster home. Often, two workers are assigned for the overnight duty.

The following day, the tort claim said, the boy was put into juvenile detention as intimidation to keep him quiet “despite the fact he had committed no new offense that would warrant further incarceration.” (Source.)

Richard Wexler of NCCPR has been highly critical of Oregon’s attempts to solve their foster care crisis, and has strong criticisms towards Oregon Child Welfare Director Marilyn Jones and Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser, who seem to not recognize that the problem is too many children are being removed from their homes, not a lack of families to provide foster care.

Their solution is to institutionalize more children, including painting over former jail cells and using them to house children as young as age 5.

Wexler writes this about the rationale to ship kids out of state:

In an op-ed column for the Statesman-Journal in Salem, the director of the Oregon Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division, Marilyn Jones, offers up a justification for this cruel, callous treatment of children that is mind-numbing in its mediocrity. What makes Jones’ response to dispiriting is that it is so typical of the thinking – or lack of thinking – behind child welfare in America.

This isn’t the extremism of the take-the-child-and-run fanatics in child welfare, it’s just the plodding, everyday unthinking norm.

Jones tells us that because of Oregon’s size, it doesn’t have the “best treatment services.” Therefore, she says,

“Oregon, like other states with small populations, needs to use out-of-state services.”

Of course! That explains why children are being shipped to Iowa – which has a smaller population than Oregon.

Regarding painting over jail cells and keeping foster children there he writes:

In December, 2016, I wrote a post for this blog called Fixing Oregon foster care becomes a pathetic game of whack-a-mole.

I described how an expose of abuse in foster care by the alternative weekly Willamette Week whacked the state into raising standards for foster homes. So the state wound up warehousing foster children in offices and jails.

So — whack! — a child advocacy group brought a lawsuit to prohibit the practice. The Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) settled. And children promptly wound up warehoused in hotels. So –whack! – there was another lawsuit, and another settlement.

I discussed how this would keep happening until the state faced up to the real problem: Oregon tears children needlessly from their parents at a rate far above the national average.

Now, more than two years later, behold! The Oregonian reports that the foster children are back in juvenile jails. But this time there’s a twist. They’ve repainted the cinderblock, added some pretty pictures and slapped new labels onto the jails – so now, the Oregonian tells us, they’re “repurposed juvenile jails” [emphasis added].

But one thing has changed. It used to be that state child welfare officials would say that of course it’s terrible to institutionalize kids, but they would claim they have no choice because of a “shortage” of foster parents.

That’s not true – Oregon does not have too few foster parents, Oregon has too many foster children.

But leave it to Oregon Child Welfare Director Marilyn Jones – the poster-adult for child welfare mediocrity to suggest something even worse.

Jones is now saying that no matter how many foster parents Oregon recruits they will never be capable of caring for all the children who are now institutionalized, and even more need to be institutionalized in the future. So either Jones has an astonishingly low opinion of Oregon foster parents or Jones is clueless about best practice in child welfare.

When Jones says Oregon should institutionalize more children, she’s not just talking about teenagers – though that’s bad enough.

Jones told the legislature she wants more beds to institutionalize children as young as five – children she cloyingly refers to as “the littles.” Calling for institutionalizing five-year-olds should, in itself, disqualify someone from running a child welfare system.

Wexler had some strong criticisms of State Senator Sara Gelser as well:

Almost as culpable is State Sen. Sara Gelser. Oregon media seem to believe no child welfare story is complete without the obligatory quote from Gelser. But Gelser has made the crisis worse by promoting hype and hysteria over high-profile tragedies and undermining what little DHS has tried to do to curb needless foster care.

Gelser was the major force behind legislation that killed Oregon’s “differential response” initiative – either without waiting for or simply ignoring the final results of a comprehensive independent evaluation. (The evaluation is dated June, 2017, the bill passed in early July of that year.) According to that evaluation:

“our analyses find no evidence that DR [differential response] undermines the safety of children in Oregon.” [Emphasis in original.]

The evaluation found that families receiving a “differential response” intervention were significantly less likely to have another substantiated report of child abuse than a matched comparison group of families who got a traditional Oregon child protective services investigation.

Even now, Gelser seems unaware of the fact that institutionalization simply does not work. Her comments suggest that she would be just fine with institutionalizing children if they just made the places really pretty – so they didn’t look like jails – and the people running them used all the right buzzwords, like “trauma-informed.”

So when Gelser then tells OPB that she’d like to do more about prevention (but notice it’s only the non-controversial net-widening primary prevention to which everyone pays lip service) it should be taken with more than a grain of salt. OPB also reports that

“It’s time, Gelser said, for the state to figure out how to find the appropriate place for the state’s most vulnerable children.”

Actually, it’s time for Gelser to figure out that the appropriate place for a large number of those children is their own homes. (Source.)

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