Oregon

Class-action lawsuit targets foster care system

Lawsuit says Oregon foster children should receive support, services needed

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- Disability Rights Oregon and New York-based A Better Childhood filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Human Services and Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday alleging that the foster care system has failed to shield children from abuse and further neglect.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 10 foster children but cites more than 70 other children whom attorneys claim were failed by the state system. 

According to the lawsuit, DHS has violated federal and state law by not providing foster kids with permanent, long-term foster homes. The agency has struggled to house its 7,500 foster children and often has no choice but to house children in hotels, homeless shelters and refurbished jail cells. According to the lawsuit, more than 80 foster kids are still housed in out-of-state facilities. 

The case is one of the most expansive complaints brought against DHS. The lawyers said they hope the federal court can compel DHS to provide more adequate services.

The lawsuit calls for an increase in the foster care system capacity to ensure every child has an appropriate placement -- and in a family-type home setting instead of an institution. The suit also wants to make sure that foster children, particularly those with intellectual or developmental disabilities or those who identify as LGBTQ, receive the services and support needed. The lawsuit also seeks better support for foster parents. 

Chris Shank with Disability Rights Oregon, one of the attorneys representing the foster children, said one young woman named in the lawsuit was given no access to mental health support, even after she was sent to the emergency room for suicidal thoughts.

"[She] was cutting herself then went back a week later, DHS took her into custody and placed her in a homeless shelter with no access to mental healthcare," said Shank. 

Shank added that one child she met with has been placed in 50 different foster homes. 

"Imagine, 50 different times -- different person, rules, schools -- no stability," Shank said. 

After the suit was filed, DHS released a statement saying in part:

"DHS shares the same vision of foster care system where all children are safe, have the customized supports they need to heal and are cared for in stable, loving families where they thrive. We take the care of our foster children seriously and work with urgency and diligence to achieve this goal. Over the past 18 months, we've been building the foundation needed to balance staff workload, so they can spend more time with children and families and add supports to serve children and families holistically in their communities."

DHS added that "many" efforts are underway to further the same goals of the lawsuit, including statewide campaigns to recruit therapeutic and general foster families, and community volunteers to support them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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