Oregon Foster Care Class Action: Settlement Rejected, Parties Head To Trial

A proposed settlement by the state in the suit filed by Disability Rights Oregon and the national advocacy group A Better Childhood has been rejected by the plaintiffs. Representing all foster children in the state, the suit seeks policy changes rather than monetary damages from Oregon’s Department of Human Services.

Similar class actions have been brought by child advocacy groups in several states. Including  Tennessee, where settlement of the suit resulted in reforms which improved outcomes for Tennessee children and youth in foster care. In and out of court since 2019, Oregon’s Child Welfare Agency has been accused of having a poor record when dealing with Oregon’s foster children.

Marcia Robinson Lowry, director of A Better Childhood and the lead attorney in the lawsuit said on Monday her organization rejected an offer from Oregon’s Department of Human Services. As it was was totally unsatisfactory. Lowry believed the proposal woud not not protect Oregon’s foster children or give the state the chance to be responsible for making life better for them.

Lowry said, “We think that the state gets better by doing better for the kids it serves.” She also believes that a state is judged on whether it is doing better by delivering better outcomes. This means getting fostered children back into kinship homes or an alternative permanent living arrangement as soon as possible.

Her view is that it is devastating to a child to be moved around from one place to another and face being harmed or abused in state custody. With the litigation ongoing, Oregon’s Department of Human Services has not provided comment.

Related: Oregon Ends Contract With Dynamic Life


Improving The Foster Care system Is Not Just About The Money

Lowry compares Oklahoma- which is not a wealthy state, with Oregon. She says that Oklahoma is also doing an incredibly good job providing additional placements for foster children. Delivering additional services for kids in both foster homes and in kinship homes, Oklahoma provides far better services than Oregon. But Lowry says the lawsuit is not a matter of money- they want to see Oregon making a commitment to doing better and getting a better grasp on what they are doing.

By not understanding the needs of children, Oregon has difficulty providing the appropriate services. For example,  children are not getting assessed in a timely manner. The requirements are defined in federal law, with the actions being delegated to the individual states, but Oregon is not meeting federal law standards.


What’s at stake For Foster Children In the Class Action Lawsuit

Speaking with “Think Out Loud,” Lowry recently set out what’s at stake with the lawsuit. Analyzing the data, many heartbreaking stories about foster children were revealed. This led them to launch a lawsuit on behalf of all foster children in the state.

Speaking with “Think Out Loud,” Lowry recently set out what’s at stake with the lawsuit. After analyzing the data, many heartbreaking stories about foster children came to light.This led A Better Childhood to launch a lawsuit on behalf of all foster children in the state.

The maltreatment rate for children in the foster care system in Oregon is almost twice the national average. Other statistics also paint a bleak picture. Children spend on average 21 months in the foster care system in Oregon, as opposed to the national average of 17 months. The number of times the child moves between homes- the placement rate, is 4,1 on average across all states, but 5,3 in Oregon.

This bears out the lived experience of children who are spending far more time in the system than they should. Equally damaging to the child is that the re-entry rate in Oregon is 14,4% which again compares unfavorably with the national average rate of 8,3. This means that Oregons’s foster children who are returned to their kinship home by the state are more likely than children from other states to return  to the foster care system.

Lowry believes this situation has arisen because the state has not done a good job of establishing if it’s safe for the child to go back home. Comparing the national data and finding that Oregon compares poorly to national averages- with systems in other states performing far better, necessitated the class action lawsuit.


What Reforms To The Foster Care System Are Being Sought?

She continued by saying, “The way you do it is not by just changing your policies, but it’s by changing your practice.” The state must ensure there are enough case workers to enable them to spend sufficient time on individual children’s unique cases. Enough places could be available for children to be cared for when they need to be housed outside their homes by taking into account the special services needed.

Children needing therapeutic foster homes can see their needs better met by specially supported services for kids. Decisions about whether to return children to kinship homes should not just meet policy requirements, but also take into account special factors and the particular circumstances of the individual child and their family. A Better Childhood firmly believes that children are best raised by families- not by institutions.


Their case is now expected to go to trial on May 13.



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