By Rhonda Morgan, Statewide President DHS/OHA
OREGON—The recent coming forward of a resigning Child Welfare supervisor has once again highlighted the need for drastic reform of our child welfare system. It wasn’t investigative journalism or hearsay. The criticism this time came from within DHS. From a colleague who had spent nearly 30 years working in the agency. It was inspiring and empowering to hear colleagues speaking out on our behalf in ongoing media coverage, but this recent revelation was devastating.
An email sent by the supervisor to all DHS staff describes a “culture of shame” for child welfare workers, who are often demonized by clients, media and the justice system. All too often, child welfare workers must operate with limited support and unrealistic expectations, and when needs are not met, the blame falls on the caseworker. In regard to the placement crisis, there simply are no placements available. Caseworkers begging foster homes for child placement is not unusual.
There is no simple solution to these problems. We know that lasting change can’t happen overnight. We are encouraged by the agency’s new leadership and how receptive they are to hearing directly from the caseworkers in the field. We know they are looking into ways to provide some short term relief to the placement crisis. But we also know that change won’t happen when workers can’t even perform the primary functions of the job. Child Welfare is chronically understaffed and appallingly underfunded. Though funding to expand staff and support is the most logical next step, there must be room on the horizon for true reform of Oregon’s Child Welfare program. This means building a support system for keeping families together in a safe and nurturing environment while also creating a program allowing foster families to care for children in a way that will provide a fulfilling life.