PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A blistering critique of the Department of Human Services and Child Welfare was released Wednesday by Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who said there are overwhelming staff case loads, fewer foster homes and children spending weeks in hotels.
The audit discovered DHS paid almost $40 million in legal payouts alone in the last 12 years because the agency couldn’t consistently keep children in their care safe from abuse and neglect.
A lot of the dysfunction in the agency could have been solved, the audit said, with more effective management. The “dysfunctional” culture contributes to high staff and executive turnover and a lack of accountability. The probe also found that available foster homes had declined by 15% since 2011.
Despite repeated calls for reform over the years, Oregon’s embattled DHS continues to remain dysfunctional, the audit states.
“We found managers unwilling to take responsibility for key decisions and results on multiple occasions,” said Jamie Ralls the principal auditor for the Secretary of State. “Staff told us they felt unsafe with raising concerns about critical management and child welfare issues.”
The investigation took a year to complete.
Hundreds of DHS employees, foster parents and foster youth were interviewed.
“Foster parents tell us they do not feel adequately supported in dealing with the challenges of children in their care,” Ralls said.
The audit discovered foster parent didn’t have adequate support because there are simply not enough caseworkers.
“In one office we visited,” Ralls said, “8 case workers in a single unit were out that month on stress-related medical leave. This means that their caseloads have to be transferred to the remaining staff who already have full case loads.”
There’s also the issue of a serious shortage of foster parents.
Brooke Gray, the executive director of the Portland Leadership Foundation which oversees the implementation of a successful recruitment model for recruiting foster families, told KOIN 6 News they don’t believe government agencies will solve this problem.
“Challenges that face the most vulnerable Oregonians in a silo that it takes community involvement to get engaged,” Gray said.
While the audit was discouraging to her, Gray believes in the partnership they have with DHS and is encouraging families to become even more determined to help foster kids.
“The worst thing a community can do in light of an audit is to walk away and say ‘Best of luck,'” Gray said. “What we need right in this moment is for the community to lean in even further.”