SALEM, Ore. — There are 84 kids in foster care from Oregon in out of state facilities, one of which was found to be so appalling, the state of Washington pulled all of its kids out of it last Fall. Oregon still has kids there.
"We failed these kids, the state failed these kids, this agency failed these kids, and it's wrong,” said Senator Tim Knopp at the Senate Committee on Human Services hearing at the capitol Thursday.
Disturbing stories of Oregon’s foster care children being abused in facilities across the country are why Oregon is now working to bring all of the kids back to the state.
Whitney Rodgers knows changes need to be made to Oregon’s Foster Care System because she lived it. She was placed in foster care at 14-years-old. She is now in college working to become an attorney to fight for foster kids like her. Thursday, she shared a few of her experiences in front of the Senate committee.
“I was put in isolation up to 72 hours on Christmas of 2016,” Rodgers explained. “I stayed in isolation, and that was not seclusion and a locked door, but a stripped room, with a blanket, a bed, and a pillow for 72 hours and the psychological effect that had on me, especially, during the holiday season, being a foster youth, was very great.”
The committee asked Rodgers to share her story after learning there are kids in the Oregon Foster Care System who are not safe.
"We now know we have specific kids of ours in danger today while we sit here,” said Senate Committee on Human Services Chair Senator Sara Gelser.
Eighty-four kids from Oregon are in out of state facilities. Some of which have reports of licensing violations, arrests, injuries, sexual assaults and inappropriate restraints. The most troubling case, a 9-year-old girl in a Montana facility who is repeatedly restrained and injected with medications.
“I don’t know what she has been injected with and it honestly scares me that the records are so inconsistent,” testified Annette Smith, JD, Attorney for the 9-year-old girl.
Smith said she requested medical records directly from the facility, but never received them. She also said calls to the facility have gone unreturned, making it even more difficult for her to check on her client. She also testified there are significant barriers that make it difficult to travel out of state to check on her client’s well-being and care.
"She was frequently injected with chemicals to basically discipline her for regular childhood behavior, Senator Gelser said. “How many other kids is that happening to?”
That is a question the Oregon Department of Human Services could not answer, which is why it announced a plan to bring all out of state foster kids home.
“While I take responsibility, I just want you to also know by the data that we are not doing a terrible job, as far as, having kids in residential settings or in locked facilities,” explained DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht. “We are talking about, out of 7,500 kids, 84 children.”
However, senators think even one child being harmed is too many.
“We can't walk away and look away from these circumstances and say it was just one, it was just 85, those matter just as much as all of the other times when it goes well,” Senator Gelser said.
The 9-year-old girl’s attorney acknowledged her client has heightened needs and does not have information to support the notion she would get injected for normal childhood behavior, but said injections were not being used on her in Oregon.
The committee knows not every kid out of state has a bad experience, but when they are not here, it is that much harder to check on them to make sure they are safe.
DHS also acknowledge there are changes that need to be made here in Oregon.
Rodgers said kids getting injected happens here as well.
“It really hit me hard, the injection part, but that happens here in Oregon too in several treatments, and I don't know if this is too graphic, but how it's done is very violating,” Rodgers explained. “Often times from my experience, in behavior residential, sometimes your drawers are pulled down and you are held down by three or four individuals and they inject you if you refuse to take your medication.”
Rodgers said she supports bringing foster kids back to Oregon, but said they need to have a safe place to return to.
“We need to make Oregon a home before we try to make Oregon home,” Rodgers said.
The Retired Director of the Mental Health Policy Program at the University of Illinois also testified at the hearing. He said when Illinois was sending foster kids out of state, what they found was appalling. He said the further away from the state of Illinois they got, the higher the cost of the care and the lower the quality.
“It is very shocking, and the good news is we can stop it, it doesn't take a law, it doesn't take a new plan, it just says this is not good enough for our kids,” Senator Gelser said. “We're stopping it today. We're going to get these kids home and we need to get the kids home now.”