Friday, December 4, 2015
Scandal fallout: Oregon pulls foster kids from another provider
Oregon officials have stopped placing foster children with a Clackamas County agency that landed on a state "radar list" of troubled providers, the Department of Human Services said Thursday — more fallout from accusations the department did little to stop neglect by a Portland provider.
The provider, Youth Villages Oregon, is a local branch of a national organization. It was led, until this winter, by Oregon Health Authority director Lynne Saxton. A statement from a Department of Human Services spokesman didn't say why the provider was put on the radar list or how many children were affected.
The department plans to release a letter Friday detailing problems and threatening Youth Villages with the loss of its state license.
Connie Mills, a spokeswoman in Youth Villages' main office in Tennessee, told The Oregonian/OregonLive "we disagree with some of [the department's] conclusions." But she acknowledged that Oregon officials had "asked us to hold off on admissions to our residential campus program for the time being." The provider works with children facing serious behavioral and emotional issues.
Mills also shed some light on some of Oregon's concerns, saying they involved training and supervision issues.
"They have some questions about this program and we are actively addressing those while we work with [the department] on a corrective action plan," she said in a statement. "Some of the things we're doing include enhancing supervision of youth by significantly increasing highly skilled and trained staffing, as well as conducting additional trainings and evaluating other areas in which we can make improvements."
Youth Villages, formerly known as ChristieCare, is one of two providers facing sanctions after Department of Human Services officials this month reviewed seven providers on the most recent radar list.
The other one is Scotts Valley School in Douglas County, which treats behavioral problems and accepts private clients from across the country. Scotts Valley has been on the list longer than any other provider and is expected to receive a letter Monday, officials said. It does not treat any state-paid clients.
The Department of Human Services released information about the list and the results of its review in response to requests from three media outlets, including The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Those requests came during a tense legislative hearing last month on how the Department of Human Services deals with troubled providers. The hearing followed reports that top officials continued to send children to a Northeast Portland foster care provider despite knowing about serious financial issues and abuse accusations.
The state Department of Justice has filed suit against that provider, Give Us This Day, accusing its operator of misspending $2 million in state money to pay for personal expenses such as cosmetic surgery and vacations.
Give Us This Day spent 28 months on the radar list, officials testified at last month's hearing. The list, issued every few months by the department's licensing arm, looks at factors including media attention, the volume and severity of complaints, and chronic noncompliance. The licensing office has three staffers in charge of tracking 203 child-care providers.
"The document became known as the 'radar list,' but it was never intended to be more than an advisory about licensed facilities that someone thought should be added or removed to ensure that DHS executives were informed if asked," department spokesman Gene Evans wrote. "It was never a 'watch list' of locations where immediate action was needed or recommended — it was only an internal advisory document."
Gov. Kate Brown responded to the Give Us This Day scandal last month by replacing the Department of Human Services' interim director and announcing an independent investigation of the state's child welfare system.
Her choice to lead the department, state administrator Clyde Saiki, told lawmakers last month that human services managers lacked a central mechanism for spotting troubled providers. Evans said Saiki ordered the review that led to Thursday's announcement.
Evans said Saiki has "established an ongoing review process" to make sure managers meet and track concerns involving child-care facilities.
"This cross-agency team and regular review is one early outcome of the governor's charge to improve oversight of the child foster care system," Evans wrote.
Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who convened last month's hearing, is working up legislation to toughen licensing requirements and financial rules, and to give regulators the power to suspend a provider's license over abuse claims and other safety violations.
Gelser also has proposed changing how the department processes abuse and neglect allegations. Last year, more than half of complaints were ruled closed during an initial screening, in part because state law strictly limits investigations, usually to cases involving serious injury or an ongoing threat.
Gelser wants to set a lower threshold that would include threats, neglect through the denial of food or medicine, financial fraud and lesser injuries that don't leave a child near death.
— Denis C. Theriault