Federal judge keeps trial alive alleging failed foster care in Oregon, says state cannot dismiss charges of child abuse



Children’s advocates are pursuing a federal lawsuit to force Oregon to improve its struggling foster care system, after a U.S. District Court judge dismissed arguments from government attorneys that the case should be closed.

“We are encouraged by the court ruling that brings us one step closer to fixing Oregon’s failing foster care system,” Jake Cornett, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon, said in a statement. “This decision is a victory for the thousands of children in the foster care system who deserve to be healthy, fed and cared for in a home.”

Two and a half years after the trial began, Judge Ann Aiken’s Sept. 27 ruling that the case should continue increases pressure on heads of state, including Governor Kate Brown, who is a named accused . Brown has about 14 months left, as term limits prevent her from running for a third term, so the case may not be resolved while she is governor.

A central argument in Disability Rights Oregon’s case with A Better Childhood, a New York-based nonprofit, is that Oregon violates children’s constitutional right to due process. They say the state does this by failing to protect children from harm and failing to protect children with disabilities from discrimination and unnecessary institutionalization.

Lawyers for the 10 plaintiffs, aged 18 months to 17, who were all in foster care in Oregon when the lawsuit was filed in April 2019, say the state’s foster care system does not nor has it protected the rights of LGBTQ children to “” freedom from systemic discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. For example, they represent a transgender teenager for whom the state has reportedly failed to find a supportive home and at one point, sent to a girls’ program.

Lawyers said another plaintiff, also a teenager, had been subjected to physical and sexual abuse so obvious that the state had received 35 reports of abuse and neglect involving the boy and his sister since they had was first referred to the state in 2010. At 9 – a one-year-old girl was sent to a program in Montana where she was drugged to “induce calming effects” and physically restrained by several members of the personal, while a Native American teenager had lived in at least 50 different foster placements, none with tribal members, and was on the verge of being released from the foster care system by the time the lawsuit was filed.

Attorneys for the Portland firm Markowitz Herbold, who represent the state, have filed a motion asking Aiken to restrict or dismiss the lawsuit. They said the federal judicial review of Oregon’s foster care system would interfere with state court decisions and that plaintiffs with disabilities sought additional treatment for their disabilities rather than ‘an accommodation required by federal law, according to Aiken’s decision.

Aiken agreed with state attorneys that some of the plaintiffs’ due process claims should not go ahead. For example, she wrote that the case law does not support a due process right for children to be placed in a home with their siblings or an area in which they have ties, and children who are taken out of the home. Nor do they have the right to a regular support process that will help them make the transition to independent living. Children also do not have due process rights to stability in the reception system. Aiken noted that the state “cannot force people to volunteer as foster parents.”

At the same time, Aiken highlighted court rulings that children have a due process right not to be subjected to abuse while in state custody and that systemic issues such as Overworked social workers can increase the likelihood that children will be harmed because of higher error rates in abuse investigations. . She also noted that the Oregon Department of Social Services, not the state’s court system, is largely responsible for child welfare decisions and the plaintiffs are suing the governor anyway. and the child welfare agency, not state courts.

The governor and a spokesperson for the child protection agency declined to comment on the judge’s decision, saying they were not weighing in on pending litigation. The cost to taxpayers of defending the state’s foster care system is unclear as the Department of Justice and the Department of Administrative Services were unable to provide the figure on Wednesday afternoon. .

“Although Oregon has made efforts to resolve the issues raised in the complaint, the information we continue to collect since the filing of the complaint shows otherwise, and Oregon continues to fail as a responsible parent.” , said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive. director of A Better Childhood, in a press release. “This decision and the court’s validation of our constitutional and statutory claims on a number of important issues paves the way for us to continue moving forward to protect children and seek systemic change in the foster care system.” reception. “

Lawyers for the plaintiffs want the court to force Oregon to implement a long list of child welfare system improvements that they say would bring the state into line with the Constitution and federal laws, such as hiring a sufficient number of social workers to limit the workload to 15 children and require in-depth assessments of children within 30 days of state custody. The parties have met on several occasions to discuss the settlement of the case since April 2019, most recently in April 2021, according to Federal Court records.

–Hillary Borrud; [email protected]; @hborrud

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