Oregon drop-in system continues to house children in hotels, despite agreement to stop

Oregon leaders broke their pledge four years ago to phase out the use of hotels and other temporary housing to house some of the state’s most vulnerable foster children, The learned Oregonian / OregonLive.

In a transactional agreement of February 2018, the State undertook not to accommodate more than 24 children per year in hotels from July 2020 and to limit the length of their stays.

Instead, the Oregon drop-in system housed 76 children and young adults in hotels rather than family-friendly facilities or treatment programs in the first 11 months of this year, according to a report by Status as of December 1. The state admitted it was not in compliance with the regulations in a September letter to attorneys for foster children who had originally filed a lawsuit in federal court over the situation there. five years.

“Despite all reasonable efforts, (Oregon Department of Human Services) cannot at this time substantially comply with all of the numerical limits of the agreement,” wrote Senior Assistant Attorney General Carla A. Scott.

Scott said the pandemic has reduced the slots available in mental health treatment programs, making it difficult for the state to reduce its use of hotels as temporary accommodation. This is because children who need inpatient treatment and programs are also the children most likely to be placed in hotels, she said.

Oregon “recently lost a major provider of residential psychiatric services for children and young adults with acute mental health needs – a level of care in high demand for those in temporary accommodation – due to vendor workforce challenges, ”Scott wrote. Programs are struggling to recruit and retain workers to care for children and some, including facilities specifically for children and young adults with developmental disabilities, have limited admissions of new clients in response to the pandemic Scott wrote.

The fact that a disproportionate share of foster children stationed in temporary quarters also suffer from mental disabilities, including behavioral and psychiatric disorders, was a central concern cited in the original 2016 trial that led to the agreement. settlement. By housing these children in hotels, offices and even a juvenile detention center, lawyers argued that the state had denied them access to the family environment and the stability it is supposed to provide for all. the children in his care. This violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state anti-discrimination and child protection laws, the attorneys said.

The state planned to expand its foster family capacity specifically for children with specialized needs, but during the pandemic, the social service agency had to focus on retaining existing foster families and children. slots in institutions, Scott wrote. Meanwhile, for every child living in a hotel, the state must have two adults including at least one social worker who monitors the child around the clock, which the state says costs more than $ 2,000 per person. day largely due to overtime.

Oregon also relies on hotels at a grossly disproportionate rate to house black children in its care, according to recently released state data obtained by Emily Fox of the Oregon Law Center, a children’s lawyer in host family. Black children made up 6.2% of children in foster care in 2020, an already disproportionate percentage given that less than 4% of Oregon’s infant population is black. In contrast, 20% of children and young adults child welfare workers placed in hotels until December 9 this year were black. No other demographic of children has been housed in makeshift neighborhoods at such a disproportionate rate to their overall representation in state foster homes.

Maggie Carlson is a lawyer for Youth, Rights & Justice, which was one of several groups that filed the 2016 federal lawsuit. She said even before the pandemic, the state continued to place children in housing. so temporary that lawyers went through arbitration in 2019 in an attempt to force the state into compliance.

“That hasn’t changed,” Carlson said of the state’s social service agency’s reliance on temporary housing for foster children. “The only thing that has really changed is the lack of attention that surrounds him. Seems like it’s become such a ingrained practice that it’s sort of accepted at this point and shouldn’t be.

The state continues to place some children in hotels for months, Carlson said. “There is a lack of preventive services put in place for these children which leaves the social workers in the field with no other option, which is really unfortunate as there tend to be quite a few children” who end up in temporary accommodation. Oregon had 5,515 children in state care in early December.

State child welfare officials declined an interview request, citing an ongoing litigation related to the matter. In response to The Oregonian / OregonLive’s request, the state provided its letter acknowledging that it was in violation of the regulation.

For children and young adults in state care whose access to treatment programs and family environments is delayed, the impact can be devastating, advocates said.

Michael, who asked to use only her first name, said his teenage daughter had been in state custody for a year, since the Social Services Department stepped in to help provide additional support for the needs of the child. mental health of her daughter. He said she had developmental problems which he attributed to her childhood cancer and her treatment. The Oregonian / OregonLive agreed to use her first name only to protect her daughter’s identity.

Michael said he lacked the resources to meet his daughter’s needs after years as a primary caregiver. But since the state got involved, he said, Michael’s daughter bounced back and forth between foster care and caregivers, and spent periods in between living in hotels under the supervision of child protection workers.

“Once was a week,” Michael said. “Another time, it was two weeks. Another time it was six weeks. … That was the solution when they couldn’t find her a place to go.

Michael said he believed the state’s child protection officers wanted to help and his daughter received counseling and job training while living in hotels, but she also ran away to several times and did not systematically take medication. Also, he said a hotel is not a place for a child to live.

“There are a lot of issues storing it in hotels and that is really what it was, storing it in a hotel until they can figure out their next move,” said Michael. “They lose a lot of their services while they are at the hotel, just the daily care.”

– Hillary Borrud | hborrud@oregonian.com | 503-294-4034 | @hborrud

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