- Associated Press - Sunday, January 10, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - New records reveal state officials knew of significant troubles at a Portland foster care provider years earlier than previously reported.

The records show that in 2009, the head of Oregon’s child welfare programs emailed her boss with worries about Give Us This Day. Erinn Kelley-Siel wrote to the Department of Human Services’ director Bruce Goldberg that every single staff person working for the provider had a criminal record. Kelley-Siel also wrote that Give Us This Day wasn’t licensed.

Other messages sent between 2009 and 2014 show back-and-forth discussions over licensing, abuse complaints, worries about poor care and supervision, problems with cleanliness and hunger, and concerns about financial mismanagement.

The Oregonian reports (https://is.gd/769dhq) hundreds of pages of records were released by Sen. Sara Gelser ahead of a legislative hearing next week. She obtained them through a public records request.

Despite concerns, officials in June 2013 recommended keeping the state’s contract with Give Us This Day. That’s because the provider was known for accepting troubled children other providers turned away.

It wasn’t until about seven years later that the department stopped placing children at Give Us This Day - after allegation emerged that the provider had misspent nearly $2 million in state funding.

Gov. Kate Brown ousted the DHS interim director in November and announced a review of Oregon’s foster care system.

Sen. Gelser is pushing for tougher oversight of Oregon’s child welfare system. Her bills would give officials more power to investigate abuse claims and close providers accused of neglect.

One bill would tighten licensing requirements and financial rules, and give regulators the power to suspend a provider’s license over abuse claims and other safety violations. Currently providers can keep their license if they’re “substantially” in compliance, even if regulators have repeatedly confirmed abuse and neglect.

Over the past several years, Oregon has paid millions of dollars in settlements involving abuse.

“All of the right things were being said in public. But behind the curtain, decisions were being made to sacrifice the safety of kids,” Gelser told the newspaper.

Give Us This Day’s financial troubles were first reported by Willamette Week in September. Later that month, a former Give Us This Day employee told the Senate’s human services committee the provider failed to provide food and clean bedding, rewrote reports, tolerated mold and rodents, and let workers use improper force.

In November, Gov. Kate Brown ousted the Department of Human Services’ interim director and announced a review of Oregon’s foster care system. The new interim director said he planned to “deeply” investigate the circumstances that allowed Give Us This Day to continue operating despite substantiated claims of abuse.

Brown’s review will focus on abuse investigations, licensing practices and how the department shares warning signs. An advisory group, including lawmakers and advocates, has also been formed.

Already, the state is making some changes.

Last month, officials pulled kids from a Clackamas County provider, Youth Villages, amid complaints of supervision so poor that teenagers were allowed to engage in sexual contact. Youth Villages announced last month it was closing the residential program in question.

Another provider, the Scotts Valley School south of Eugene, received a letter from the state that mentioned children enduring hunger, bedbug bites, vulgar nicknames such as “orphan whore” and punishment that involved silently facing a wall for 12 hours a day.

Gessler said she hopes officials are held accountable.

“Kids were hurt,” she said.

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Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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