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Oregon child welfare system struggling

PORTLAND — A federal study has found Oregon's child welfare system is failing at keeping children in state care safe and healthy.

The study concluded that "Oregon is trending in the wrong direction," reported The Oregonian. It found caseworkers are taking too long to check on allegations of abuse and neglect, with just over half of all child welfare investigations completed in time. The most serious cases require check-ins within 24 hours, but the state met that goal less than two-thirds of the time.

The state has struggled to keep children who've been abused from being harmed again, either in state custody or afterward, and parents aren't able to see their kids as often as they should, the report said.

At the same time, the study found available foster homes have declined from 4,229 in 2013 to 3,847 in 2015.

The findings were released Wednesday in response to public records requests. The report came just weeks after a $60 million lawsuit claiming neglect and abuse was filed against the Department of Human Services. The department's new director, Clyde Saiki, fired two of the agency's most senior child welfare officials shortly after the suit was filed.

In a statement, Saiki said the agency was accountable for the results of the study.

"We are responsible for the system that protects the children and youth entrusted to our care," Saiki said. "There is a substantial amount of work that needs to be done in order to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve."

There was also a department staffing shakeup in 2015 after a northeast Portland provider was accused of neglecting children and misusing state money for years, all with the knowledge of state officials. That scandal prompted legislation to shore up the foster care system.

"This just confirms that the problems are deep and systemic, and not a one-off," said Democratic Sen. Sara Gelser of Corvallis, who drafted new licensing regulations for foster care providers.

Republican Rep. Duane Start of Grants Pass, who sponsored a bill creating a foster care advisory commission, said in a statement that "the new report is a sobering reminder of how broken our state's child welfare system is."