Published: April 16, 2019

This statement is from SEIU 503 Executive Director Melissa Unger in response to the A Better Childhood lawsuit filed on behalf of 10 children in Oregon’s foster system:

This lawsuit highlights the trauma and stress that touches every person involved with our failing child welfare system, and reflects a complete failure to address the ongoing issues by our State’s leadership.

Oregon’s child welfare workers have among the highest turnover rates of any agency in the State. They experience vicarious trauma due to the horrors that were highlighted in the lawsuit, and deal with caseloads as high as 300% of the recommended level. Interviews with front-line staff were key parts of the lawsuit. They are as outraged as anyone, and have been pleading for change for years.

At the same time, our system is hemorrhaging foster providers. We’ve lost a third of institutional beds for high acuity placements, 55% of career foster homes, and 15% of foster care providers. A majority of foster providers are emergency certifications because we lack sufficient workers to certify a robust foster network.

Two years ago, the Secretary of State issued an audit recommending funding to address these two key choke points, staffing and placement. Since then, advocates and SEIU members have fought hard for change. Our state’s leaders have not stepped up to make funding and staffing a priority. And today, DHS is facing a $103 million budget cut.

For the entire system to change, we must invest in it now. We can’t leave session without funding child welfare at 100% of the staffing levels recommended to get to a safe and secure caseload. To date, no one in leadership has recommended appropriate staffing levels. In order to fix the problem, we must fund the system.