Oregon Class Action Child Welfare Lawsuit Settled: Expert To Oversee Foster Care

Disability Rights Oregon, a national Advocacy group, joined forces with A Better Childhood, a local nonprofit, filing a class action motion in 2019 on behalf of ten of Oregon’s foster children against the Oregon Department of Human Services. The suit was not for money but sought less abuse, better care, and stable homes for children placed in foster care.

The parties in this matter, WYATT B. et al. Plaintiffs, v. TINA KOTEK et al., reached an out-of-court settlement agreement yesterday after Oregon child welfare officials have spent years struggling to find appropriate places to house the state’s most vulnerable children.

Marcia Lowry, the executive director of A Better Childhood, confirmed that the state has a high rate of mistreatment of children. She said Orgeon assumes responsibility for many children and is often their only parent. Lowry said the state continues to be a constitutionally inadequate parent. She said this revictimizes already innocent, vulnerable children.


Wyatt v Kotek Lawsuit Settlement

Emily Cooper, the legal director with Disability Rights Oregon fervently wishes they could have settled this in year one. She said plaintiffs knew that if they couldn’t settle, the fight could go on for years with possible appeals.


See: Full Court Order & Opinion below


Oregon Human Services Department Director, Fariborz Pakseresht, said the agreement is a testament to the progress made in child welfare over the past several years.


Massive Money In Legal Costs To Defend Failing Child Care System

Cooper is infuriated with the size that the bill to taxpayers will be after the final costs for the court case are calculated. Markowitz Herbold appeared on behalf of the state to defend its child welfare system and their latest contract set the maximum compensation limit at $19.5 million. Oregon appears likely to also be liable for the costs of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Rizzo Bosworth Eraut and Davis Wright Tremaine.

To date, the state has spent about $18 million of taxpayer money defending its troubled child welfare system.


Better Care For Children In Foster Care Lawsuit Follows Previous Efforts

With a history of little transparency and a lack of accountability, the state has struggled for years to find appropriate placements for its most vulnerable children and there have been previous legal interventions:

  • Despite a promise in 2018 to stop the practice, in 2023, Oregon was still spending over $25 million to house kids in hotels.  A federal judge appointed an outside expert to oversee the state’s Department of Human Services
  • Widespread mistreatment of children sent to out-of-state facilities scattered across 16 different states was halted after the practice saw mounting pressure and the death of a child.
  • Oregon’s child welfare system paid a religious nonprofit $2,916 per day for every child placed in unlicensed short-term rental homes but this was halted due to the practice coming to the public’s attention.


See also: Oregon Nonprofit Was Paid 100 Times More Than Foster Parents To Care For Vulnerable Children


Oregon Class Action Law Suit Will See Expert To Supervise

In terms of the settlement, Disability Rights Oregon and the state must agree on the appointment of a “neutral” expert to oversee the foster care system. The expert will work with individuals to improve the child welfare system, mainly by reducing the rate of mistreatment and working towards improving the quality of foster placements.

The expert, who must be appointed by  May 31, 2024, must have experience in child welfare systems and federal government oversight processes. By 2026, the person selected to oversee the child welfare system must review the progress of Oregon’s Department of Human Services Department annually to determine progress on agreed-upon goals, including lowering abuse rates and creating timely professional mental health and medical assessments for children under their care.

Chair of the Senate Human Services Committee, State Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, is pleased the case was settled. She believes it’s important that the kids get a chance to tell their stories without any retaliation for speaking out.

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