EUGENE, Ore. (CN) – Foster kids filed a class action against Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday over the state’s dismal foster care system, which the kids say removes them from their homes at twice the national average and increasingly places them in out-of-state facilities.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Eugene by Gregory Chaimov and Paul Southwick of Davis Wright Tremaine, asks the court to assess the adequacy of Oregon’s foster care system and evaluate whether the system violates foster kids’ constitutional rights to “achieve permanency” by unnecessarily separating them from their families and be protected from abuse as well as their rights under the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Filed on behalf of 10 Oregon foster kids ranging from 1 to 17 years old, the suit names Gov. Brown, Oregon Department of Human Services, its director Fairborz Pakseresht and Child Welfare director Marily Jones.
Oregon fails to properly assess the needs of its 8,000 foster kids, according to the complaint, and particularly fails kids with disabilities, LGBTQ youth and kids who are aging out of the foster care system, who often end up homeless because the state doesn’t help them transition.
One of the plaintiffs, a 15-year-old, lives in a converted wing of the Douglas County juvenile detention facility, according to the complaint. Another plaintiff, a 16-year-old girl, was placed by the state at a homeless shelter. Others were moved to facilities in Iowa or were shuffled between multiple homes, the lawsuit states.
The two youngest plaintiffs, brothers who are one and three years old, were separated after having been shuffled between six placements in their short lives. The three-year-old has a congenital heart condition but was not getting the right medications until recently – a problem a Department of Human Services worker described to the boys’ birth mother as “a total goof-up,” the lawsuit states.
Despite 35 reports detailing the physical and sexual abuse suffered by a 13-year-old boy, authorities took him out of the home for only two-thirds of the five years he has been under state supervision – leaving him to suffer abuse in the home for nearly 2 years, the complaint says.
Another plaintiff, a 15-year-old transgender boy, was placed at a shelter inside the Douglas County juvenile jail, where he is subjected to the same strip searches and cold showers that regular inmates endure.
The lawsuit calls Oregon “a constitutionally inadequate parent, revictimizing already vulnerable and innocent children.”
Oregon has refused to make recommended changes to its foster care system for over a decade, the lawsuit says. A 2018 report by the secretary of state found records so woefully incomplete and disorganized the office could not even complete an audit. A 2012 report, issued by Gov. Brown while she was secretary of state, found the Department of Human Services was staffed to meet the needs of only 68% of its caseload. And a 2016 audit found a slew of systemic problems the plaintiffs say have only gotten worse.
In an statement, Gov. Brown said the safety of Oregon children is her “highest priority,” but acknowledged the state has a foster care crisis.
“DHS has many efforts under way to address long-standing issues and to stabilize the system, including recruiting caseworkers and foster families, reassessing placements for the highest-needs kids, and changing its organizational culture,” Brown said. “Still, much more needs to be done, and I will continue to push for additional resources to help DHS and its community partners support Oregon’s most vulnerable families.”
Co-council Marcia Robinson Lowry and Dawn Post with A Better Childhood in New York and Emily Cooper, Thomas Stenson and Christine Shank with Disability Rights Oregon also represent the plaintiff class.