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DHS Report: Agency Needs To Address Abuse, Shortage Of Quality Homes

<p>A cot, squeezed in among office cubicles at a child abuse hotline office, where a teen slept back in June.</p>

Courtesy of Shamus Cooke

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A cot, squeezed in among office cubicles at a child abuse hotline office, where a teen slept back in June.

Oregon's foster care system is being pushed to its limits and failing to put in place remedies for ongoing problems. That's the upshot of a consultant's draft report released Thursday by the Oregon Department of Human Services.

The report is the result of a call for an independent investigation last fall by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. It followed a series of news reports of child abuse and financial wrongdoings at Portland area foster care providers.

Consultants talked with youth, foster parents and state workers for their report. They found that the Oregon Department of Human Services is often forced to place kids who have physical or behavioral issues with foster care providers that aren't certified to handle them.

READ: DHS Releases Initial Findings Of Independent Investigation

In July, OPB reported that DHS was placing children who didn't have homes into hotel rooms.

At the time, DHS Child Welfare Director Dr. Reginald Richardson said the agency had increased its safety standards recently and that was causing foster parents to complain about the stricter regulations.

Thursday's report found that capacity to serve high needs foster youth is also shrinking — a problem that was identified at least five years ago.

DHS Director Clyde Saiki said one of the most troubling findings was that the agency hadn't addressed problems they knew about for years.

"It was kind of difficult to hear that in some cases, we'd started work that was never completed and in other cases we never even started," Saiki said.

The consultants recommended the agency develop protocols for how to handle situations where an appropriate level of care is not available, rather than making so-called "crisis decisions" on the fly.

The report also found that after a few years of decline, the number of substantiated cases of abuse of foster care youth rose again last year. Data in the report show substantiated reports of abuse dipped to 63 in 2014, but rose again last year to 85.

The report also found that the state responds to reports of abuse inconsistently. Some youth told the consultants that they had to run away before their reports of mistreatment were taken seriously.

Another finding: African-American children are slightly more at risk of abuse in Oregon's foster care system than Caucasian children. But Native American children are almost twice as likely to suffer from abuse than Caucasian children.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting