Oregon Department of Human Services Director's Message
March 5, 2010 DHS Director's messages on the web
To: All DHS employees
From: Bruce Goldberg, M.D., director

Working together

"People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society."
~Vince Lombardi

We have talked a lot about change as we move toward a two-agency structure of the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority. This week I want to focus on something that will not change: the way our programs and our people are working together in innovative ways to address some of society's most intractable -- and costly -- problems.

A great example of this is the way the partnership between Addictions and Mental Health (AMH) and Children, Adults and Families (CAF) deals with the devastating impact of addiction on Oregon families.

When it comes to addictions, the struggles of the parents are visited upon the children. It is estimated that 60 percent of all children in foster care are there because their parents have untreated substance abuse issues. That's a high price for children to pay. And with the average cost of foster care services topping $2,000 a month per child the state was paying a high price as well.

In 2007, leaders from AMH and CAF went to the Legislature and shared their concern for the alarming rise in the number of children placed in foster care because of substance abuse by their parents. They proposed a plan to work together to look at the real barriers to treatment for addicted parents and how to address them holistically. The program they ultimately crafted with the support of lawmakers is the Intensive Recovery Treatment Services (ITRS) initiative.

The initiative is designed to provide Oregon families with both recovery-focused addiction treatment and support services. Supports include housing, transportation, parent training and child care. These services make it possible for these families to stay together and are proven to reduce the time children spend in foster care.

Since the program was launched, 868 children or 40 percent were reunited with their parents, saving $1.7 million per month in foster care costs. This total includes food, clothing, shelter and caseworker time. In addition, the median length of stay for children in foster care was an average of two months shorter compared to children who received services before ITRS was implemented.

Finally, and most importantly, there is a human dimension to all this is that is of paramount importance. The more we can keep children safe with their families and avoid foster care the more successful they will be. The human and financial implications of this are enormous.

These positive outcomes led the 2009-2011 Legislature to renew all funding for ITRS with no cuts. This is money well spent. For every dollar we invest in treatment there is a $4 - $7 return due to a reduction in crime, child abuse and neglect, and medical costs.

Despite the fact that AMH and CAF will soon be a part of two different agencies their incredible collaboration and cross-divisional work will continue to serve hundreds of ITRS families. I want to commend both AMH and CAF for their extraordinary collaboration and their ability to think outside the box and create services when the need is identified. This is what transition is all about; prevention, improving services to Oregonians and therefore improving the health and well-being of us all.

DHS on the web