The Oregon foster care system is under fire again after it was revealed that the Department of Human Services paid a large settlement to siblings who were sexually abused in their care home. It turns out they couldn’t report the abuse, committed by another foster child, because the foster parents didn’t speak English, and DHS failed to make the proper visits to the home to check up on the children. The case illustrates once again the horrible conditions faced by foster kids in Oregon — and how little has been done by the state to fix the rampant problems.
According to OregonLive, the brothers were age four, six, and seven when they were placed in the care of the Gresham, Ore., foster family in 2012. An older foster child already living in the home sexually abused two of the boys. The three boys slept in a windowless basement and wore filthy clothes that reeked of urine. The boys were further isolated from help from the outside world as DHS failed to make mandatory visits to check on their condition.
State law requires that foster children have at least one face-to-face interaction with a caseworker every thirty days.
DHS does not have a rule requiring that foster children be placed with parents who speak the same language as the children.
This case is yet another tragedy that could have been prevented. According to the attorney who represented the children in the lawsuit against the state, the older child had previously abused other foster children in the home. One of his victims then victimized another child in the home. In addition, school officials reported that the children came to school in dirty clothing and were falling behind academically, and showed signs that something wasn’t right at the foster home. The biological mother of the boys also noticed problems during visitation sessions and attempted to report them.
It was only after the older child confessed to the abuse that the state acted to remove the three brothers from the home. A lawsuit was filed against DHS in April 2016 and settled in September 2017 for $750,000. The attorney says the money will be used for counseling and other self-esteem building therapy. The boys were returned to the custody of their biological mother three years ago, and while they’re doing better, they still face an uphill battle.
Meanwhile, in another case reported this month, a man in Lane County and his family have disappeared after police attempted to serve a search warrant to investigate reports of sexual assault on a foster child in his care. After the man refused to talk to Eugene Police detectives in October, the family abruptly packed up and moved, disconnecting all their phones in the process. According to the search warrant affidavit, the family left many of their belongings behind in their rental home. They left a message for the landlord saying they could keep the security deposit. Two children were placed in this home for about a year, until they were moved in July 2017 to another foster home. One of the children, a 10-year-old girl, told her new foster family that she had been forced to perform sex acts on the foster father and watch pornography on his cell phone.
After the girl was interviewed by a state official, she was briefly left alone in the interview room. According to the affidavit, the girl can be heard on the video whispering to herself, “I feel brave.”
It is unclear whether DHS made the required visits to check up on this foster care family.
Foster care in Oregon remains plagued by scandals, despite Governor Kate Brown (D-Portland) forming a task force in 2015 to study the problems. A report earlier this year showed that few of the problems plaguing the mismanaged DHS have been corrected. As more cases of abused and neglected foster kids emerge, it becomes increasingly urgent to ask Brown and state lawmakers what they’re doing, if anything, to fix this mess.