By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) - Child advocates sued Oregon's governor and other top officials in federal court on Tuesday, claiming children in the state's foster care program were being denied proper care by a system that has long been "overwhelmed, under-resourced and ineffective."
The 77-page lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene on behalf of 10 young people in Oregon's foster care system by two child advocacy groups and a national law firm. The plaintiffs seek class action status to represent all children in the program.
"The state has simply failed to address the overwhelming needs of its most vulnerable children and the situation is only getting worse," Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, said in a written statement.
The group said that the lawsuit, which it filed with Disability Rights Oregon and the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, was the first to represent specific populations in foster care, such as disabled children or gay and lesbian youth, in a single class action lawsuit.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown said in a written statement issued in response to the lawsuit that the safety of Oregon's children was her highest priority.
"Like many states, Oregon is facing a foster care crisis. DHS has many efforts under way to address long-standing issues and to stabilize the system, including recruiting caseworkers and foster families, reassessing placements for the highest-needs kids, and changing its organizational culture," Brown said, adding that more needed to be done.
The director of Oregon's Department of Human Services, Fariborz Pakseresht, said the department was already working toward improving the foster care system.
"DHS shares the same vision of a foster care system where all children are safe, have the customized supports they need to heal, and are cared for in stable, loving families where they thrive," Pakseresht said.
The lawsuit claims caseworkers were overburdened, children were frequently moved and often separated from siblings.
"The system is so overwhelmed, under-resourced and ineffective that older children and children with even relatively mild behavior problems are not often placed by DHS in family homes with necessary supports and services," the lawsuit said.
"Instead, DHS places these children in inappropriate institutions, ships them out of state where they are placed in costly and questionable for-profit congregate programs that do not address their needs or largely abandons them so they wind up in homeless shelters or on the streets," the court documents allege.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Dan Grebler)