Policies We Care For

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Legislative Budget Priorities

In 2018, in the Legislature’s “short session” and the emergency special session called by the governor, Oregonians saw yet again our legislators fail to prioritize children trapped in our state’s broken foster care system. It is not difficult to see that our state is failing on this issue. Breaking news stories were released ahead of, during and after the short session and the emergency special session, was not used for any emergencies at all, but rather was more of the political theater we see in Salem every year. Every year the Legislature fails to substantively address the issues facing foster families, children pay the price. The Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) budget was slashed, only funding $14.5 million for 186 new staff.

Despite the funding for new staff, the department has failed to fill 300 critical positions to fulfill basic services. We believe the current staffing levels are inadequate. Our goal is for the Legislature to fund at a minimum another 100 positions to bring caseloads under control to ensure the department is empowered to meet the needs of foster families.

We believe there is no higher budget priority than protecting funding for foster families first. We will fight to prioritize spending in the upcoming legislative session. We expect our lawmakers to commit to funding foster care first ahead of any pet projects or non-essential government spending.

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Education Opportunities for Foster Children

Oregon foster children are technically wards of the state. Children who are in stable housing have more opportunities than those in foster care. One such area we have identified is in support for youth activities outside of the home or as part of the academic day. Oregon Foster Families First is crafting legislation that will provide for a foster youth in high school to use their state school fund dollars for a foreign exchange if they are academically qualified and accepted into an accredited exchange program. This allows a foster student an experience which is not otherwise available to them. We believe it is important to create equal opportunities for foster children and to promote normalcy in their education experience.

Headlines in Oregon newspapers have highlighted the plight of children in foster care staying in hotel rooms and sleeping in offices of social workers. Legislative bodies in Washington DC, Maryland, and Florida have passed creative and innovative legislation to enable SEED schools. SEED schools are public charter schools where children with poverty markers have a choice to attend a residential 6th through 12th grade educational program. Furthermore, in Florida SEED schools have to have a percentage of students be foster children. Foster care and housing dollars help fund the residential portion, the state school fund pays for the educational school day, and Medicaid covers on-site healthcare, for as many as 400 students per location. With these wrap-around services, low-income students have seen as high as 100 percent graduation rates, and support moving onto higher education. SEED school pilot legislation was brought in 2017, but died in the legislature without a hearing. We support $100,000 of funding, which will allow Oregon to engage in the pilot program to see if the SEED program is the right fit for our state.

Another idea we are proposing to support foster families and the child in their care are supports around higher education. In 2011, the Oregon legislature passed a law that allows foster children who age out of the system to attend an Oregon college at no cost. The law failed to address foster children who have been adopted out of the system. For many families, the prospect of adopting a child from the foster care system is hindered by the fact that they don’t have money accumulated for a child to attend college. We believe closing this loophole will remove a barrier for families to adopt, and particularly, provide an incentive for more teen adoption. It is our goal to support legislation in 2019, to amend the law to allow children adopted out of Oregon’s foster care system to receive this same education benefit.

Currently, Oregon’s foster children are lagging in a struggling school system, and it is time to look and new creative solutions. We believe that one of the number one determinants of success in a young person’s life is a quality education, and an educated populace is fundamental to a popurus and healthy future society. The solutions we propose it to give every child in the DHS and opportunity to fulfill their potential, and give the the opportunity to not have their unfortunate circumstances determine their destiny.

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Higher Education Support for Foster Families

We believe the way to help more families think about committing to foster care is to support the needs of biological children of foster care parents, as well as the foster child. One of the incentives we support to encourage more non-familial foster care family placements is to help offset the college tuition of their own biological children at state colleges or universities. Would you support a program whereby foster families are rewarded with incremental tuition decreases for years of service supporting foster care children? This would look similar to the student loan forgiveness programs where student loans are paid-off after ten years of public service.

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Child Care

To encourage more non-familial foster care families to participate, and to support foster parents who are relatives, child care is one of the most critical aspects of support needed. This is particularly true if we’re to recruit more single parents or dual-employed families. In 2017, the lack of financial support is further exacerbated when the cost of child care is considered. Currently, Oregon has the second highest cost of child care in the United States behind Washington D.C, as explained in the SOS audit. For families who are incurring daycare costs for their own biological children, the additional cost of providing daycare to foster kids is cost prohibitive. We support legislation that allows foster families to be eligible for employment-related child care regardless of the income status of the foster parents.

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Foster Family Financial Support

“The Oregon Department of Human Services has not adjusted reimbursement rates for family foster care to the cost of living since 2009, when rates increased 61 percent over those of 2007. In 2011, rates declined 10 percent due to department budget cuts. Foster care payments are again set to increase 7 percent in 2018, and will range from $693 to $795 per month, depending on the child’s age,” SOS audit pages 29 & 30.

“With the new rates, the state will be paying approximately $26.50 per day, 30 which covers only 74 percent of the cost to raise a child in the Pacific Northwest, according to the USDA. Foster parents are expected to pick up the remaining costs, which can include everything from clothing, to school supplies, to medical care,” SOS audit page 30.

Money is not the primary reason many choose to take on the huge responsibility to care for our most vulnerable children, but appropriate financial support will directly benefit foster families and the children in their care. A common concern from foster families is that the level of financial support does not match the actual expenses that a family can incur. Moreover, the SOS performance audit noted that the payments to foster families have not been adjusted to the cost of living since 2009. We support legislation that adjusts the reimbursement to 2019 cost of living, and index future rates of reimbursement specifically to the Consumer Price Index for Healthcare.

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The landmark performance audit of the foster care system was unique in that prior secretaries of state (SOS) had never focused on more than the finances of the agency. We believe until such a time we can determine all kids are in safe and stable homes and the department is functioning in accordance with state statutes, that the SOS Audits Division should be routinely doing follow-up performance audits. We are looking to partner with legislators who will sponsor  legislation to require the SOS Audits Division to perform an updated foster care audit every two years. We believe this increased level of accountability will provide the governor, DHS leadership, legislators and Oregonians a consistent progress report. It will help ensure new issues are not becoming chronic or systemic problems.