Horrifying Conditions in Oregon's Foster Care System

In response to this escalating crisis, Gov. Kate Brown (D-Portland) hired a consulting firm to audit the foster care system. Their report is deeply disturbing, showing that the system is backsliding in too many areas:

  • Foster children in Oregon are being abused at an increasing rate — nearly double the national median rate
  • The current abuse reporting procedure is not standardized, and rated as untrustworthy
  • DHS does not adequately follow up on abuse investigations
  • Foster care providers are not adequately trained to care for high-needs children
  • There is a rush to certify foster homes and place children, which compromises safety standards

What's more, consultants found that legislation passed this year which increased regulations on foster care providers had the unintended effect of pushing away good foster parents and causing strain within DHS.

Multiple reports show that the years of bureaucratic red tape and lack of accountability may be substantially to blame. The current lawsuit cites the example of a caseworker who has been promoted out of troubling situations multiple times:

The manager who oversaw the caseworkers who failed to help the young siblings was Shirley Vollmuller, the lawsuit says. She is the same manager who supervised the caseworkers who did nothing as another young sister and brother were starved in a Clackamas County foster home from 2002 to 2004.

A jury awarded that little boy $2 million and determined that Vollmuller and one other human services worker were the most responsible for the horrors those children endured.

The jury issued that verdict October 2011. By then, Vollmuller had been promoted from the Clackamas child welfare office to the top managerial role in Washington County child welfare office, where she now earns $100,000. She oversaw the decision to place the sister and little brother in the Yateses' rural Yamhill County foster home in May 2012.

In addition to needed reforms to DHS, the auditor's report also states that too often DHS fails to enforce existing guidelines:

They also said DHS could centralize and standardize its processes for investigating child abuse and adopt clear protocols that include following up on claims of abuse.

Beyond identifying problem areas, the report also recommended system-wide improvements for DHS, including suggestions as simple as that DHS should follow its own policies.

 A final report is due to the governor later this month. The newly appointed head of DHS has testified to the legislature that it is "very likely Oregon will not meet national standards in the final report," and that a previous improvement plan from 2008 has gone largely ignored. The failure of the recently passed legislation, reports of long-term indifference to growing problems, and ongoing litigation indicate that actions taken so far are unacceptable and more must be done to reform the foster care system in Oregon.