(Reuters) – Child advocates sued Oregon’s governor and other top officials in federal court on Tuesday, claiming that 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 prominent national law firm. The plaintiffs seek class action status to represent all children in the system.
“The state has simply failed to address the overwhelming needs of its most vulnerable children and the situation is only getting worse. Foster care is supposed to help kids, not make them worse, but that is exactly what foster care in Oregon is doing,” Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, said in a statement announcing the litigation.
The group said that the lawsuit, which it filed with Disability Rights Oregon and the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, was the first in the United States to represent specific populations in foster care, such as disabled children or gay and lesbian youth, in a single class action lawsuit.
The director of Oregon’s Department of Human Services, Fariborz Pakseresht, said in a statement that 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.
Representatives for Governor Kate Brown did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters for comment.
The lawsuit claims that caseworkers in Oregon’s foster care system were overburdened, children were frequently moved – sometimes out of state – 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 claims.
“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