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Foster care system gets another black eye

For Oregon’s troubled Child Welfare system, the hits just keep on coming. The latest pummeling comes from state Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who convened a hearing after she learned that a 9-year-old girl from the Eugene area was shipped off to a Montana psychiatric residential treatment center in October and no Oregon official visited her for six months.

The child is one of more than 80 Oregon children being treated in out-of-state, for-profit psychiatric facilities because there is no place for them in Oregon.

Marilyn Jones, director of Oregon’s Human Services Child Welfare Division, wrote in an op-ed in the Salem Statesman Journal in February that half of the state’s specialized care beds have been lost since 2015 — 67 in all. Most of the more than 8,000 youths served by the foster care system are cared for in-state, but the most challenging cases must be sent to facilities that are equipped to handle them.

That’s fair enough. But Johnson also said, “We know where they are every day, we know how they are doing, and we want everyone to know how this system works on behalf of our children.” Staff members visit, or contract with “independent, third-party professionals” to monitor treatment and meet with the children in person every 30 days, she wrote.

None of that happened in the case that has drawn Gelser’s attention. No one visited the 9-year-old girl. State officials won’t say whether the other children being treated out of state have received visits. That’s unacceptable.

Another troubling factor is the track record of Acadia Healthcare, the Tennessee-based, for-profit company that operates the Montana facility along with about 600 others in 40 states and the United Kingdom. The company’s CEO was ousted in December, the president left in March and a board member has resigned effective in May. The company also faces allegations of misconduct by staff members in at least two states, including lawsuits alleging physical and sexual abuse against children at a treatment facility in New Mexico.

Beyond that, Oregon taxpayers are spending massive amounts of money to send children out of state for treatment: more than $10,000 per child per month.

It is unconscionable that it took publicity and legislative pressure to prompt official review of the treatment these most vulnerable Oregon foster children are receiving.

Lawmakers should bring them home. And give Child Welfare the shakeup it deserves. Too many of our children are suffering at the hands of a system that’s operated without accountability for far too long.

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