Oregon Witness Highlights State’s Approach to Serving Vulnerable Families

Wyden proposal builds on Oregon’s strategy

WASHINGTON – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today heard from three witnesses with Oregon ties about the need for more flexibility in the child welfare system to help vulnerable families and children and reduce lengthy stays in foster care.

Wyden said he will introduce the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act which builds on Oregon’s model by giving states and tribes much-needed flexibility to fund supports and services to better the lives of at-risk children, their families and potential kinship caregivers before foster care is necessary. The bill is based on a legislative discussion draft Wyden proposed earlier this year which is meant to address an inherent flaw in the federal child welfare funding structure: that the majority of dollars is only available once a child enters foster care.

“Most youngsters in foster care aren’t there because of physical or sexual abuse – maybe mom or dad needs help covering the bills for a month, substance abuse treatment, or connections to child care,” Wyden said. “Oftentimes, a youngster’s aunt, uncle or grandparents could step up, especially if they had just a little bit of assistance. In my judgment, every single one of those avenues ought to be explored before breaking the family apart.”

Chuck Nyby, who has worked in Oregon’s child welfare system for 13 years, testified that the state’s focus on foster care prevention and family engagement is better at meeting the needs of Oregon’s children.

Nyby said Oregon’s Differential Response approach is tailored to the needs presented by individual families and children and that it allows caseworkers to be “helpers, not just investigators.”

“Caseworkers have more options, flexibility and are empowered to be creative with families,” Nyby said in his prepared testimony. “They still take action to keep kids safe, but they have options and tools necessary to develop in-home safety plans.”

Rosalina Burton, who also testified in the hearing today, spent 12 years in foster care in California and is currently a FosterClub All-Star intern at FosterClub in Seaside, Oregon. Burton said that front-end, supportive services likely could have helped reduce the time she spent in foster care.

“Support kinship placements at all times because sometimes parents will fail to reach the bar, but their kids should not be forced to find a new family when extended family members are available,” Burton said in prepared testimony.

Additionally, Donna Butts, an Oregon native and the Executive Director of Generations United, testified that front-end supports can make the difference between allowing kinship care placements and placing children in non-relative foster care. She gave the example of grandparents who had to file for bankruptcy while trying to remodel their home to meet the state’s foster care requirements and were barred from taking in their grandchildren.

“I grew up in a family of six with three bedrooms. I shared a bedroom with my sister my entire life,” she said. “And to think that relatives can’t figure out how to make due with a little bit less space – with a little bit less – doesn’t make any sense. We need to take that into consideration. I think that the bill that [Wyden will] be introducing goes a long way in helping to understand that the grandparents need those supportive services to be successful.”

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