I have often emphasized that the important work we do at DHS and OHA is not done by us alone. Most is done by local service providers and much of what we do relies on strong partnerships and collaborative efforts. Today I want to highlight one of those.
Oregon is making progress in safely reducing the number of children in foster care, and there is more work to do to ensure that this happens statewide. For the past two years, the Oregon Department of Human Services, the Commission on Children and Families, Oregon's tribes and the Governor's office have partnered with Casey Family Programs to safely and equitably reduce the number of children in foster care. Just this year, the Oregon Judicial Department, led by the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, signed on as a partner, and individual legislators, community and business leaders are involved at many levels.
It is the breadth of the partnership that makes Oregon's work on this important issue remarkable and inspiring, and I believe it is the best strategy to achieve long-term, sustainable change.
We have set aggressive goals and have been working intensely with eight participating counties (Coos, Deschutes, Jackson, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah, Tillamook and Washington) in order to:
- Safely reduce children in foster care by 26 percent;
- Increase relative placements by 50 percent;
- Reduce children entering care by 10 percent;
- Increase foster care exits by 20 percent;
- Reduce the disproportionality index for Native and African American children; and
- Hold the child abuse and neglect recurrence rate at or below 6.5 percent.
Additionally, county teams are committed to making sure that children are removed from their families and placed in foster care only when they cannot safely stay at home. When children are placed in care, the partners recognize the importance of keeping kids connected with family and the urgency of ensuring that the children are quickly returned home or provided with a permanent placement.
We know that children and youth who have been in foster care do not do as well as those children who remain safely at home. National research and our own experience show us that children and youth in foster care often lack the critical foundation of family support and the relationships they need to build emotional security and family and workplace success.
Study after study shows that these young people experience:
- Lower educational achievement, including below-average graduation rates;
- Nearly one-in-four chance of becoming homeless at age 18;
- High rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
- High teen pregnancy rate;
- Higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse;
- Higher rate of incarceration; and
- Lower employment rate and lower income.
While our numbers statewide have increased slightly over last year, the number of children in foster care declined overall in the eight counties in this partnership.
This improvement shows the importance of focus, measurable outcomes and the constant pursuit of clear goals. In the coming year, under the leadership of Erinn Kelley-Siel and others on her team, we will be scaling up the best practices learned in these counties to the rest of the state.
I am confident that progress will come as we continue to learn and work together in news ways to protect children and help preserve families.
For information on the partnership, you can go to the DHS Beyond Foster Care website -- and be sure to check out the video clips.