by Elizabeth Gibbons
In our Last Week In Child Welfare, February 4-11, we discussed the recent audit of Oregon’s child welfare department that showed the state had not made any significant improvements or reforms, despite the knowledge that their system was ineffective and jeopardized the health and safety of the children in their care. On Thursday, February 22nd, as covered by the Portland Tribune, Oregon governor Kate Brown announced her intention to hire 185 more child welfare workers at the Department of Human Services, which will cost $14.5 million. Staff turnover, low morale, and chronic understaffing are all issues that have plagued the Department of Human Services and were exposed in the audit. This understaffing created unbearable caseloads, often three times higher than the suggested amount, which contributed to staff burnout and massive turnover. Governor Brown’s boost would solve part of the problem, but auditors have suggested hiring upwards of 700 more staff. When the audit first came to light and Oregon legislators were debating changes, Senate Democrats said that increased spending would not have long lasting effects, arguing that throwing money at problems rooted in the foundation of the system and accumulated over a decade is a wasted effort. However, Brown’s quick actions are encouraging and, with the advice of human services director Fariborz Pakseresht and child welfare director Marilyn Jones, are expected to make a tangible impact.
In the world of babies who have been born addicted to substances, current thinking states that these babies do best when kept with their mothers and that mothers fare better when they have continued access to medical care and support. However, as reported recently in Newsweek, a bill in the Kentucky State Legislature could label babies born addicted as neglected and abused at birth, thus stripping mothers of parental rights and risking removal of their children within 60 days of birth; mothers enrolled in an official and approved drug-treatment program would be exempt from this. The bill, called House Bill 1, includes more than just redefining neglect to include neonatal abstinence syndrome; it also would overhaul other aspects of child welfare, such as terminating parental rights for children who have been in state custody for an extended period of time.
On February 22nd, as detailed in the Washington Post, Utah lawmakers proposed a new bill that grant teenagers fleeing polygamous communities legal protection from parents who could expose them to sexual abuse or forced marriage. Current law states that if a teenager runs away from home, anyone they run to must inform their parents within eight hours—which can force teenagers trying to escape back into their polygamous communities. This bill does not negate the eight-hour window to inform the teenager’s parents, but instead mandates that authorities contact the parents, allowing the teenagers the protection of officers. The case must then go to a judge within three days. The proposed bill extends protection to teenagers running away from abusive homes or domestic violence. The Utah department of child welfare supports this bill, but cautions that parents in polygamous groups should not be treated unfairly because of their beliefs. A judge must hear both sides of the case and there must be a direct and present threat to the minor to warrant removal.
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.