|I was honored this week to be a part of the state's Diversity Conference, which brought together seven state agencies in a day-long session dedicated to increasing our ability to understand and respect cultures that differ from our own.
Flora Devine, Diversity Conference keynote speaker
At DHS, addressing the issue of diversity goes beyond the one-day conference and it is going to be the key to our success in serving the people of Oregon in the decades to come. The world is changing rapidly and for the better. Diversity is no longer just a moral imperative, it is a business one.
Organizations that cannot peel away long-ingrained assumptions and prejudices and see the talent before them -- people who are ready to get to work and contribute -- will not reach their full potential.
I am proud that, at DHS, we are a leader in hiring people who reflect the cultural richness in our state. In a state where 90 percent of the population is white, more than 18 percent of our workforce is made up of people of color.
The other equally important issue before us at DHS is the racial disparities in our child welfare and health system.
In Child Welfare, we are working to address disproportionate representation of minority children in foster care. Here is a startling statistic: African American and Native American children make up 3.6 percent of Oregon's child population, but they account for about 18 percent of Oregon's foster care population.
National studies show that children of color are not abused at higher rates than their white counterparts, but when a child of color comes into contact with the child welfare system, those children and their families are treated differently.
We are taking action to ensure that we treat every child and family fairly and equitably. By next legislative session our Diversity task force will have a series of recommendations to lawmakers to help us address the issue. Additionally, the Children, Adults and Families Division is hosting community forums across the state as part of a research project to look at how children of color are treated at specific "decision points" in the child welfare system to improve decisions made at those key moments.
We are also are looking at children of color who have been in long-term foster care, and our staff is redoubling efforts to find safe, permanent options for them. When children must come into care, we're doing better at placing them in foster care with family members. And we're continuing Oregon's non-relative guardianship program that benefits all children in care, but especially Native American children.
In addition, we have an exciting new partnership with the Oregon Commission on Children and Families and Casey Family Programs, which has brought financial and technical resources to help us build new community partnerships to reduce the disparities in foster care.
Meanwhile, the newly expanded DHS Office of Multicultural Health and Services has begun the work of tackling disparities in Oregon that mean people of color are more likely to have avoidable serious health problems.
African American, Latino and American Indian Oregonians are about twice as likely to have diabetes as white Oregonians. Heart disease and high blood pressure are also at shockingly high numbers among these communities.
We know some of the causes. Lack of access to health care, lack of educational opportunities and the marginalization of communities of color, immigrants and refugees is a huge problem. For example, Asian Pacific Islanders and Caucasians are getting college and graduate degrees in far greater numbers than African Americans, American Indians and Hispanics. That leaves those communities with fewer opportunities for family-wage jobs that have health insurance. Parents who have to take a second job to pay the rent don't have the luxury of time to shop for healthy foods, get enough exercise, or enroll in a smoking cessation program.
To address these issues, the Office of Multicultural Health and Services will work in partnership in communities impacted by disparities in health and human services to learn more, make improvements in policies and strategies, and make sure everyone is aware of job opportunities at DHS.
At DHS we are tackling these problems head on and I look forward to reporting our progress back to you.