Oregon’s most vulnerable children are being placed into a foster care system that has serious problems. Child welfare workers are burning out and consistently leaving the system in high numbers. The supply of suitable foster homes and residential facilities is dwindling, resulting in some children spending days and weeks in hotels. Foster parents are struggling with limited training, support and resources. Agency management’s response to these problems has been slow, indecisive and inadequate. DHS and child welfare managers have not strategically addressed caseworker understaffing, recruitment and retention of foster homes, and a poorly implemented computer system that leaves caseworkers with inadequate information.
Since 2011, there have been over 11,000 children in the Oregon foster care system each year. These children are vulnerable and are often the victims of child abuse and neglect.
The purpose of the audit was to determine what changes and improvements DHS can make to better promote the wellbeing of children in foster care and ensure they are better protected and cared for.
- DHS and Child Welfare struggle with chronic and systemic management shortcomings that have a detrimental effect on the agency’s ability to protect child safety. Management has failed to address a work culture of blame and distrust, plan adequately for costly initiatives, address the root causes of systemic issues, use data to inform key decisions, and promote lasting program improvements. As a result, the child welfare system, which includes the foster care program, is disorganized, inconsistent, and high risk for the children it serves.
- DHS does not have enough foster placements to meet the needs of at-risk children, due in part to a lack of a robust foster parent recruitment program. The agency struggles to retain and support the foster homes it does have within its network. The agency also lacks crucial data regarding how many foster placements are needed and the capacity of current foster homes, inhibiting the agency’s ability to fully understand the scope of the problem.
- A number of staffing challenges compromise the division’s ability to perform essential child welfare functions. These challenges include chronic understaffing, overwhelming workloads, high turnover, and a large proportion of inexperienced staff in need of better training, supervision, and guidance.
We make 24 recommendations that address the agency’s management challenges, foster parent recruitment and retention, and child welfare staffing. Our recommendations also affirm the foundational recommendations Public Knowledge LLC made in September 2016.
The Department generally agrees with our recommendations. The Department’s response can be found at the end of the report.