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Our Executive Director's Guest Column

On February 14, 2018, The Bend Bulletin published the following guest column authored by MountainStar's Executive Director, Tim Rusk:

How much does Oregon care about child safety?

Thank you to The Bulletin editorial board for highlighting the status of Oregon’s Child Welfare System. Most Oregonians don’t interact with this system, and, I believe, it simply doesn’t show up on their radar. And yet, as Oregonians, we are “parents” to approximately 7,600 children who are in the foster-care system every night. The care they receive after being abused or neglected is the result of our collective action — attentive and compassionate, or distracted and stressed. As someone who has worked closely with this issue in Central Oregon for the last 15 years, I encourage us not to blame the problems of Child Welfare System on staff and foster parents who are working to make things better for children in the system.

The Secretary of State’s Office under the leadership of Dennis Richardson produced an audit in January that is an excellent primer on the history, dynamics and status of this critically important state-funded system. An excellent podcast on this topic was recently released by Oregon Public Broadcasting. It is a sad case study on the cumulative impact of not following through on improvement plans with the resources and support to finish the job. It seems like one project after another is rolled out with good intentions but inadequate funding or unsustained commitment. All Oregonians should know that our Department of Human Services Child Welfare did not meet 12 of the 14 areas assessed in a 2016 Federal Child and Family Safety Review, and Oregon puts kids into this system far faster than other states.

Every day, while there is turbulence in the bureaucratic and political stratosphere, children come into care, and staff have to make the current system work. Last year, there were over 76,000 reports of abuse or neglect that resulted in 38,000 investigations. There were 11,843 child victims with 46 percent of them being 0 to 5 years old. The three most common family stressors reported were alcohol and drugs, domestic violence and parent/caregiver involvement with law enforcement. Nineteen children died, which is 30 percent fewer than the previous year.

In Central Oregon, there are many efforts to make things better for children in the system or at-risk of entering foster care — Court Appointed Special Advocates, KIDS Center, MountainStar, Circle of Friends, J Bar J programs and Westside Church are all making big contributions. The Central Oregon Health Council understands the connection between childhood trauma and stress and long-term health outcomes; they have given a 3-year, $2 million grant to Central Oregon Trauma, Resilience and Adverse Childhood Experiences partnership led by the Deschutes County United Way. I encourage you to get involved with one of these programs or the many others in our community making a difference in the lives of children.

My impetus for writing is to shine a light on this important issue, and to share my feeling of hope and aspiration for Oregon’s DHS/Child Welfare System. I attended a community forum in January convened by Fariborz Pakseresht, director of the Oregon Human Services Department, and Marilyn Jones, Child Welfare director.

In my world, we talk a lot about vicarious trauma resulting from being close to families in crisis. Well, hope is contagious, too, and I caught it from longtime Central Oregon Regional DHS Director Patrick Carey. For whatever reason, now could be the time the system really improves and not another Charlie Brown moment — trying to kick the football only to have it snatched away at the last moment. The Eagles won a Super Bowl. Maybe children in Oregon’s foster care system deserve a win, too.

— Tim Rusk is the executive director of MountainStar Family Relief Nursery Bend.

Link to the online article: http://www.bendbulletin.com/opinion/lettertotheeditor/6001812-151/guest-column-get-involved-to-help-children-in

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