Oregon’s most vulnerable children are being removed from their homes despite too few foster placements to adequately meet their needs. Given these shortages, the Department of Human Services (DHS) began the practice of “hoteling” where they house children in hotels for days and weeks at a time.
In 2018, the Secretary of State issued an audit of the DHS’ practices an audit issued by the Secretary of State, it found that the “supply of suitable foster homes and treatment facilities for these children is falling, leaving children entering foster care with increasingly limited placement options. At times, these options are inappropriate and even unsafe.” Additionally, DHS has “increasingly resorted to housing children with high needs in hotels, often leaving inexperienced caseworkers, who work full-time schedules during the day, to supervise them at night.”
In 2016, the Youth, Rights & Justice Center (YRJ), the Oregon Law Center (OLC), and CASA for Children filed a class action lawsuit against DHS for its practice of hoteling. In a 2018 settlement agreement, the state agreed to incrementally reduce the number of children placed in hotels to no more than 24 children a year by July 2020. Maggie Carlson, an attorney for Youth, Rights & Justice (YRJ), said that these children are “spending months and months in hotels with a rotating cast of caregivers all the while getting the message they are unwanted and can’t do well with a regular family and they are different and unlovable. In addition to “posing physical and psychological safety risks to children and staff that are hard to manage,” hoteling children is “significantly more expensive than foster care” and “difficult to administer on a day-to-day basis.”
Richard Vangelisti, a guardian ad litem for two girls involved in the suit, said “State child welfare officials and children’s advocates agreed that we all want to see children placed in stable and safe home-like settings that are close to their family and school.” While DHS has reduced the number of children placed in hotels, it has failed to do so per the settlement’s provisions.
Since 2018, Oregon has spent more than $25 million hoteling children in the state’s custody. In the last six months of 2022, DHS placed 67 children in hotels. In the first six months of 2023, DHS placed 75 children in hotels, ranging in age from 6 to 19 years old. Twenty of those children spent more than 60 days lodged in a hotel.
In 2023, after years of “substantial noncompliance,” U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane appointed a special master to oversee Oregon’s Department of Human Services. Judge McShane said that DHS’ “argument has become nothing more than a stale mantra and the Court has lost faith in ODHS’ ability to end this entrenched policy on its own.” This special master “will make specific recommendations to ODHS, and, if necessary, the judge could order the state to follow their recommendations.”
Pursuant to the Oregon Foster Children’s Bill of Rights, each child has the right to have a permanent family, a home where they are a part of the family and treated as such, nutritious food that meets their dietary needs, clean and appropriate clothes, safe housing, free access to necessary hygiene products, a safe and appropriate sleeping arrangement and adequate space for my personal belongings, access to a working telephone, and a permanent family. OAR 413-010-0180; ORS 418.201 – 418.202. Each child has the right to be treated with respect, appropriately disciplined, and protected from physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse including exploitation and trafficking. Id.
Many children in DHS’ custody have already suffered abuse, neglect, or trauma before entering the foster care system. As Angela Sherbo, Supervising Attorney at YRJ, stated, it is “the state’s responsibility to protect them—not to inflict further harm—and it is our responsibility, as Oregonians, to make sure the state ends these practices immediately.”
If you or someone you care about was sexually abused while in foster care, and you would like advice from an attorney about the rights and options for victims of child sexual abuse, please contact Crew Janci LLP today for a free, confidential consultation at 1-888-407-0224 or by using our private online form. We will treat you with discretion and respect.
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