Retired DHS caseworker calls unplacement issue a ‘crisis’ - KPTV - FOX 12

Retired DHS caseworker calls unplacement issue a ‘crisis’

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A retired Department of Human Services caseworker shared an inside perspective on the practice of hoteling foster kids just days after court documents showed it was still being done in Oregon.

FOX 12 learned the state agency is continuing to house children in hotels for weeks, or in some cases months, despite a lawsuit calling on them to stop.

Barbara Casey said she worked as a caseworker for 15 years and that during that time placing a child in a hotel was a rarity.

She now considers what’s going on to be a crisis and agreed to talk with FOX 12 to shine a light on the problem and encourage members of the community to step up.

When Casey retired from DHS in February of 2014, she thought her work as a caseworker was done. She kept in touch with friends at the agency, who in turn kept her keyed in to the rising challenges they faced in placing kids in a foster home.

“I literally got a call from a woman who was in the process of trying to put at least a program in place,” she said. “It was, “How can we manage the unmanageable?’”

Casey said she was asked to come back on a temporary basis last October to help watch over kids placed in hotels, and she did so for several months. 

She said the agency always paired up two caseworkers to supervise one foster child, and they typically stayed in a hotel suite with their own spaces. They’d usually roll into the hotel around 5 pm and work a 15-hour shift through the night.

This was not a problem for Casey as a retiree, though she sympathized with the caseworker who came straight from work and went back to work the next morning.

“My heart went out to them,” Casey said. “I’d say, ‘Can you catch an hour of sleep here, can you rest when they’re showering, or get your case notes ready for next day?’”

MORE: DHS partner agency: Best way to address ‘unplacement’ is more foster families

Court documents obtained by FOX 12 in connection with a lawsuit filed against DHS revealed some 130 foster children in Oregon spent the night in a hotel or DHS office in the past 7 months.

Casey said the scope of the issue is unlike any the agency has ever seen.

“I have not seen the crisis as strong as it is now, and it is a crisis,” she said.

Casey said while hoteling kids is unnatural and at times unhealthy, it wasn’t all bad. She considers the hotel a safe space and one many caseworkers strive to make fun.

Still, Casey admitted that the policy is not the long-term fix that is needed.

“This is a stop-gap measure, not a particularly good one and probably a rather expensive one, but that’s why the need for foster families is so great,” she said.

Beyond the need for more foster parents, Casey argued the agency needs more funding to retain those foster parents, boost reimbursements rates and build better programs. 

“Do you patch up the wall, or do you do a re-roof, or do you do another patch here? These are the things you do, frankly, in crisis mode," she said. "We have to spend money now and don’t have a bigger budget that you need to do a sustainable on-going recruitment. I don’t think anyone wants the situation to continue, but it’s where we find ourselves.”

The SEIU Local 503 Executive Director Brian Rudiger issued a statement to FOX 12 in regards to the situation:

“We applaud legislators in Salem for prioritizing funding for child welfare services, but it’s clear that current funding levels are woefully inadequate. Oregon needs game-changing, systemic investments in child welfare services in order to improve outcomes for our state’s most vulnerable children. To that end, we call on state Legislators to pass House Bill 2060, which would close a tax loophole that benefits wealthy Oregonians at the expense of funding for vital programs like child welfare.”

A decision on the state budget that is slated to impact DHS is set to come sometime in these next two weeks.

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