FOX 12 Investigators: Housing foster kids in hotels is costing O - KPTV - FOX 12

FOX 12 Investigators: Housing foster kids in hotels is costing Oregon millions

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

It's a bandage solution to Oregon’s foster care crisis and the state is bleeding money trying to keep up with the costs.

The FOX 12 Investigators have uncovered that the expenses of placing Oregon's foster kids in hotel rooms are adding up to millions of dollars.

Many of the state’s most vulnerable children are being placed in hotels when there is nowhere else for them to go, and caseworkers wind up working through the night just to watch over them.

The Department of Human Services could not provide FOX 12 with a running tally of what it was spending on housing foster kids in hotels, so a copy of DHS financial records was requested. The state agency claimed those records could only be provided at a cost of thousands of dollars.

Instead, FOX 12 requested the expenditures related to one child from one night and did the math from there.

After filing a public records request, DHS provided FOX 12 with a snapshot of what the state agency said it spent on a random hotel stay dated July 8, 2017.

The hotel room itself was $169. That's for one child and two case workers. Each person gets a $32 per diem for dinner and the group spent $14 on one activity for the child.

In addition to those external costs, the state shells out overtime and shift differential pay to both caseworkers, which for the case in July came out to be $1,069.40.

It's important to note each caseworker is paid on a sliding scale. DHS said the salary in this case is considered mid-range.

Based on this information, it appears Oregon spent $1,348.40 for housing one foster kid, in one hotel, for one night.

FOX 12 took that dollar figure and multiplied it by 1,453, the number of nights some 130 foster kids stayed in a hotel over seven months, according to data from the Oregon Department of Justice.

That estimated total came to $1,959,225.50 spent from the child welfare general fund, just for housing foster kids in hotels.  A figure that shows how costly the placement crisis really is.

Sean Suib with New Avenues for Youth explained that level of expense is inevitable with current operations.

"It's a lot of money, but that's the kind of costs you have when you're doing crisis response," he said.

Suib and Andrew Grover with Youth Villages combined resources over the summer to be a part of the solution, though.

"In Oregon, right now today, there are roughly 8,000 children in foster care," Grover said. "If you do all the math, you’ll see that is about nine out of every thousand kids. Nationally, the average is five out of every thousand kids, so we're seeing a much higher rate of kids placed in foster care."

Both are now partnering with DHS to provide short-term temporary housing for foster youth ages 9 to 20. The 12-bed facility in Clackamas called Robinswood will provide 24-hour intensive care and support services for foster youth.

"Our program is rich in things like art therapy, play therapy, pet therapy with Dove Lewis, we will help teach kids life skills and wrap them around an environment where they can thrive," Suib explained.

"Our Intercept team will work side-by-side with the Robinswood team from the very first few days a child enters that program to determine, ‘Do they need transitional support?’ so that when they leave they get to the right place," Grover added.

Elizabeth Stock with Boys and Girls Aid said the nonprofit is now stepping up to fill the need for Oregon's youngest kids in foster care.

"I think like a lot of other Portlanders, our agency was alarmed to hear this was happening," she said. "We believe in permanency for children and what signifies a lack of that more than a child having to sleep in a hotel room."

The nonprofit is working with DHS to provide a home in east Portland as an emergency shelter for kids ages 8 and under. They've recruited two foster parents to live there full-time rent-free and will pay them a monthly retainer for providing care.

The organization is also working to establish two other support homes to offer additional care for foster kids, and each will have the ability to take in up to three children.

"This is an innovative approach to foster care and one we're really proud of," Stock said.

Between these partnerships, more than 20 beds will soon be available for unplaced youth. It's considered a critical step toward eradicating the state's multimillion-dollar practice of placing Oregon's foster children in hotels.

"It's very easy to point fingers at DHS, and not that they shouldn't be accountable and not that they shouldn't be concerned with rates of care, but there is a whole host of things that go into the need for a child in our state's welfare system," Suib said. "That's the reality of the community we live in, we have to work together."

After checking with the agency's budget department, a DHS spokesperson confirmed $2 million is a reasonable rough estimate of what the agency has paid for placing kids in hotels during that time,  and also issued a statement to FOX 12 responding to this investigation.

"Over the last year, in an attempt to address the urgent needs of youth in need of placement DHS and providers have worked hard to create safe solutions for youth that can offer both short-term temporary housing and stabilization services. We believe that in total, the 27 beds coming online this fall, including Robinswood and partnerships with Boys and Girls Aid and Maple Star will greatly and probably permanently abate the need to use hotels for youth in foster care.  As of tonight, there are no children in need of placement."

Boys and Girls Aid is hosting an informational session regarding the need for foster parents on September 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Midland Library in southeast Portland. For more information, please visit BoysAndGirlsAid.org.

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