The foster care system in Oregon is broken. Young children are repeatedly moved from place to place. Some are deposited in homeless shelters or out-of-state institutions, without Oregon officials even knowing what's happening to them day-to-day. Many of them do not have access to essential services. To help address this crisis, the national advocacy group A Better Childhood partnered with Disability Rights Oregon and DWT to file a lawsuit on behalf of 10 plaintiffs, who seek to represent all 8,000 Oregon children in foster care. The lawsuit names state officials, including Oregon governor Kate Brown, as defendants and aims to stop the ongoing violations of these children's rights.
The lawsuit alleges that Oregon's Department of Human Services (DHS) is overwhelmed, under-resourced, and unresponsive to the needs of the children in its care. To illustrate exactly how DHS is failing, the lawsuit recounts the heartbreaking stories of the 10 plaintiff children, ages 18 months to 17 years old, who have suffered terrible neglect while entrusted to DHS' oversight. Paul Southwick and Greg Chaimov are leading the effort on behalf of DWT.
This action is the first in the country to litigate on behalf of specific populations in foster care—e.g., children with disabilities, youth who will age out of the system, and LGBTQ youth—combined into a single class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit is an opportunity to intervene in children's lives and take a comprehensive, not piecemeal, approach to fix the child welfare system in Oregon. The state has filed a motion to dismiss, but from the standpoint of Marcia Lowry, the executive director at A Better Childhood, "At this point, given the history of what's happened to foster kids in Oregon, it's way too late for the state to say, 'Trust us.'"