Jeb Bladine: Quest continues for accountability

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, the first Republican elected to statewide office since 2002 and first to serve as secretary of state since 1985, said this after his November 2016 election: “We’re going to have a secretary of state who restores accountability for actions.” And Oregonians are seeking more accountability following Richardson’s audit of the state foster care system, which he titled, “Chronic management failures and high caseloads jeopardize the safety of some of the state’s most vulnerable children.”

The audit focused on just one program in one division of the sprawling Department of Human Services. Other DHS divisions include Self Sufficiency, Vocational Rehabilitation, Aging and People with Disabilities, and Intellectual or Development Disabilities.

This report chronicles 10 years of systemic foster care failures. It goes on to make 24 detailed recommendations.

Arguably, the audit should have reached back another decade to identify related failures.

It produced plenty of finger-pointing, both before and after release. After interviewing dozens of DHS managers and line employees, the auditors reported: “None were willing to take responsibility for the conditions they described, even in programs they directly oversaw, and none viewed themselves as direct contributors to an atmosphere of blame and distrust.”

Democratic legislative leaders responded by saying matters have improved as a result of their prodding and some limited budget increases the past few years. But that’s not exactly the level of accountability Richardson hoped to engender.

All agree the program suffers from employee burnout, stemming from excessive caseloads in stressful positions, and that the resulting turnover strains already limited budgets while reducing agency proficiency.

“Career foster homes,” the audit revealed, “declined by 55 percent from 2011 to 2016.” One former foster parent cited, in a published opinion piece, “the culture of distrust we’d experienced.”

I remember when, in the mid-1990s, the then-named Children’s Services Division cited budget constraints in abandoning responsibility for so-called “Level 7 youth.”
That’s a term for age 13 to 17 youths who have spiraled out of parental control, putting them at risk for neglect, abuse and addictions. They became a county responsibility through a series of under-funded programs.

By then, Oregon had memorialized policies sacrificing funding for human services in favor of excessive public employee entitlements. And, of course, we can’t just ignore the decades-old rise in addicted, criminal and unstable parents, whose personal failures have expanded the need for child welfare programs.
There are many more opportunities to uncover systemic problems in Oregon, which has operated far too long without one all-important characteristic — accountability.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.


Don Dix

Oregon's solution is always to throw a little more money at the issue -- and when things don't work out, blame someone else. Accountability and government? Hardly a harmonious relationship!

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