DHS: $13.5 billion budget request aims to relieve caseload, keep families together
WHITNEY WOODWORTH | SALEM STATESMAN JOURNAL3:55 p.m. PDT Sep. 12, 2018
0:000:00DHS audit finds critical failures in systemAn audit released by the secretary of state Jan. 31 reveals an overloaded child welfare system with a culture of bullying and intimidation.AMY READ / STATESMAN JOURNAL
A $13.5 billion budget request by the Oregon Department of Human Services promises to use additional funds to help overburdened case workers, keep families involved in child-welfare cases together and improve child-abuse screening.
The DHS Agency Request Budget recommends a state General Fund investment of $4 billion — the rest of the budget includes federal funding — for the 2019-2021 biennium.
Oregon Department of Human Services building. STATESMAN JOURNAL FILE
That’s almost $2 billion more than the Legislature approved for the 2017-2019 biennium.
As the state’s largest agency, the Department of Human Servicesemployees roughly 8,500 people serving about a million men, women and children.
“We are serving one in four Oregonians, often the most vulnerable among us, with the intention of helping each person realize their full potential,” DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht said in a letter to staff.
To do this, the agency needs additional money to provide seamless, integrated services, he said.
The long embattled agency has faced high staff turnover, million-dollar child abuse lawsuits, and a string of leadership departures over the years.
An audit by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office released in January found child protective services workers are assigned 21 investigations monthly — more than triple the number of cases they should be working on.
The audit said the program needed 769 additional employees to meet current workloads.
The audit also found DHS had spent $39 million on legal payouts since 2006 because the agency couldn’t “consistently keep children in their care safe from abuse and neglect.”
When Pakseresht joined the helm as DHS director in 2017, he promised a sea change in attitudes and workloads.
In May, Marilyn Jones, who was hired as child welfare director in 2017, said progress was being made — overdue cases were being closed, staffing levels were no longer plummeting and the workloads of overburdened caseworkers were shrinking.
The 2019-2021 budget request is supposed to expand on that work.
It includes funding for programs designed to preserve and reunify families involved in the child welfare system, thus preventing entry into the foster care system, and shortening the length of stay for children that do enter foster care.
Child welfare is just one of the DHS agencies seeking more funding.
The child welfare division requested budget includes $1 billion from the general fund for a total of $1.57 billion — an increase of 36 percent from the previous biennium.
Child welfare officials are also aiming hire more staff, including case aids to alleviate the administrative workload for caseworkers, freeing them to spend more time interacting with families.
Furthermore, officials want to centralize screening for child abuse and neglect allegations. About 7,000 reports are being processed through 15 child welfare offices statewide each month.
Screening is the first point of contact for mandatory and non-mandatory reporters.
“Screening decisions can vary based on where the call is received and a multitude of other reasons such as, workload, inexperience, misinterpretation, bias, etc,” officials said.
They added that it is vital that those screening reports apply the law evenly and accurately to each allegation in order to investigate valid claims and dismiss false ones.
Centralizing screening will make children exposed to abuse and neglect safer, officials said.
With about 8,000 children in foster care on a given day, the agency is also working to recruit qualified, trusted foster parents.
“Oregon does not currently have a structure in place to target statewide foster family recruitment and the services and supports necessary to retain good foster family homes,” officials said. “This has resulted in a lack of appropriate placement resources.”
Officials hope funding for a foster family recruitment team will solve this problem.
Leaders said the end goal will be helping children stay out of the child welfare sytem in the first place.
“We want to break the cycle that causes harm to individuals and drives Oregonians into expensive state-sponsored programs,” officials said.
They acknowledged that this will require some upfront taxpayer investment but will pay-off dividends in the future.
“We know that abuse and neglect will never totally be eliminated,” officials said. “But we believe that Oregon should be a place where our children are safe, and we believe our budget proposal will improve the state’s ability to work with individuals and communities to achieve that goal, while reducing the demand for costly state services in the future.”
The idea of building a third traffic bridge over the Willamette River in Salem was first floated in the 1960s.
The most recent proposal died Monday night on a 6-3 vote of the Salem City Council at the end of a contentious meeting.
For over three hours, 72 people testified to the city council about what step to take. They urged the city council to move forward by addressing concerns raised by the state Land Use Board of Appeals in a 2017 decision.
But the vote essentially ends the third-bridge debate.
“There is no other bridge than this one that will be on the table for the next 20 to 30 years,” Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett said.BILL POEHLER, JONATHAN BACH | Salem Statesman JournalUpdated 9:39 a.m. PST Feb. 12, 2019
A Lincoln County man imprisoned on child pornography charges died at the Oregon State Penitentiary Monday afternoon.
Oregon Department of Corrections officials reported that Mark Mryczko, 46, died in the infirmary while on hospice.
As with all in-custody deaths, Oregon State Police were notified.
Mryczko entered DOC custody in November 2014 after being convicted of eight counts of first-degree encouraging child sex abuse charges.
His earliest release date was Dec. 2, 2021. WHITNEY WOODWORTH | Salem Statesman JournalUpdated 16 hours ago
Senate President Peter Courtney figures most of the bills coming out of his office originate from conversations with constituents or members of his staff.
This was the case with Senate Bill 9. A medical emergency experienced by a legislative staffer’s type 1 diabetic daughter showed how precarious access to insulin can sometimes be in Oregon. The bill gets its first committee hearing Wednesday.
SB 9 would provide a road map for pharmacists to prescribe and dispense refills of insulin and diabetes supplies in emergency situations and require reimbursements to pharmacies for prescriptions.
Had this provision existed two years ago, a lack of insulin wouldn’t have been as big a problem for the staffer’s daughter.
As it was, when the pump she used to inject insulin failed on a Thursday, it meant she wouldn’t be able to get in contact with her doctor for a new prescription until Monday. This was despite calls from her mother to the doctor, pharmacy and insurance company.