After the last legislative session, we polled our readership to hear what you liked and didn’t like about the Update. The most frequent request we got was for more analysis. Providing analysis for every bill of interest is beyond our limited capacity. But we will strive each week to provide background on at least one issue being considered at the Capitol. This week, it’s how to best protect children served in child care agencies.
The week in review
Legislative committees have begun releasing their first public hearing schedules for the 2017 session which begins on Wednesday. Below are the bills and hearings of interest that have been scheduled for this week.
On Wednesday, the Senate Human Services Committee will reopen a legislative discussion that, in 2016, resulted in Senate Bill 1515. According to a committee analysis of SB 1515, the bill responded to findings of a 2012 Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of financial mismanagement by a Portland nonprofit foster care provider called Give Us This Day. The investigation discovered that the Department of Human Services (DHS) had received numerous reports over ten years that Give Us This Day hurt or neglected its children. Reports cited children being without food and bedding and accusations of sexual and other serious forms of abuse and use of force. DHS was criticized for failing to investigate, for continuing to work with the program, and for continuing to refer children into the care of Give Us This Day. The circumstances raised questions of whether the state spends enough to ensure DHS’s capacity to regulate and oversee providers, and whether DHS’ practice of working to support struggling and difficult providers was best serving the children in their care. Senate Bill 1515 was written to enhance DHS’ authority to license, regulate, inspect, investigate, and take immediate enforcement action against entities that risk a child’s health, safety or welfare.
Since passing, SB 1515 has attracted a number of critics who contend that its high standards have resulted in a shortage of child-caring agencies and that some enforcement actions have hurt the children they are intended to protect because they leave programs understaffed and do not take into account the clinical needs of the children. Some providers feel that they are over-regulated and under-funded: a recipe for driving programs out of business.
DRO believes that the safety and rights of children should never be put at risk due to lack of funding, oversight or transparency. Care, regulation and protective services must put the child’s interests first.
On Wednesday at 1:00 pm in Hearing Room D, the discussion will continue as the Senate Human Services Committee hears five bills that affect the regulation of child-caring agencies. Here is as summary of each:
SB 243 – Oregon law presently requires DHS to investigate suspected abuse of a “child in care.” A “child in care” means a person under 21 years of age who is residing in or receiving care or services from a child-caring agency or proctor foster home. The bill would expand this definition to include children receiving services from a certified foster home or a developmental disabilities residential facility.
SB 244 Requires DHS to notify its own staff, other agencies, child-care agency board of directors and others regarding reported or suspected deficiencies, violations or failures of a child-caring agency to comply with its operational requirements and regarding reports of suspected child abuse of a child in care. Child-care agencies include day treatment for children with emotional disturbances; adoption placement services, residential care, including but not limited to foster care or residential treatment for children, residential care in combination with academic education and therapeutic care, outdoor youth programs, and other similar services for children.
SB 245 Modifies the definition of “child” by limiting it to who reside in or receives care or services from a child-caring agency and the definition of “child-caring agency” by excluding: (F) A facility that exclusively serves individuals 18 years of age and older, and a facility that primarily serves both adults and children but requires that any child must be accompanied at all times by at least one custodial parent or guardian.
SB 246 provides DHS with more flexibility in responding to serious problems at a child care agency. Serious problems include the death of a child due to the agency’s abuse or neglect, sexual or physical abuse, failure to cooperate with a governmental investigation or failure to provide required financial statements. After starting a process to suspend or revoke an agency’s license, DHS may now place conditions on that license and, if it finds that concerns about the health and safety of affected children are adequately addressed, rescind the revocation. Rescission must be approved by the Attorney General and, in some cases, by the Oregon Health Authority. Prior notice of a rescission must be given to the governor and legislature. A rescission can only be based upon the health and safety of the children served and not the system-wide capacity of the child welfare system. An agency that receives a rescission has heightened obligations for five years and may not receive another rescission for ten years.
SB 636 changes the definition of when an abuse complaint concerning a child care agency is found to be “unsubstantiated.” It is changed from “when there is no evidence that the abuse of a child in care occurred”, to “when, after the investigation, the evidence does not provide reasonable cause to believe that abuse occurred.” The key differences are that DHS may not find a complaint “unsubstantiated” without an investigation, and that such a finding does not imply that there was absolutely no evidence of abuse.
In the House Health Committee at 3:00 pm in Hearing Room E will be a public hearing and possible work session on these bills:
HB 2123: Limits the number of voting members of the Oregon State Hospital Advisory Board serving on ad hoc committees established by the board to less than quorum.
HB 2302: Permits Oregon Health Authority staff to apply for additional state or federal benefits on behalf of Oregon State Hospital patients who will be discharged.
HB 2304: Adds peer support specialist, family support specialist and youth support specialist to membership of the Traditional Health Workers Commission.
The House Human Services and Housing Committee will conduct an informational hearing about the Department of Human Services at 8:00 am in Hearing Room E. Testifying will be:
Clyde Saiki, Director, Oregon DHS
Laurie Price, Deputy Director, Child Welfare Program, DHS
Ashley Carson Cottingham, Director, Aging and People with Disabilities, DHS
Lilia Teninty, Director, Office of Developmental Disability Services, DHS
Kim Fredlund, Director, Self-Sufficiency Programs, DHS
Trina M. Lee, Director, Vocational Rehabilitation, DHS
Oregon Housing and Community Services Overview
Margaret Salazar, Director, Oregon Housing and Community Services
The Senate Committee On General Government and Accountability will conduct a public hearing at 1:00 pm in Hearing Room C on:
SB 106: Creates a Public Records Advocate and Public Records Advisory Council.