State Senator deems DHS is in, “A State of Chaos and Disrepair.”
By US~Observer Staff
The Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) conducted an internal audit of 101 cases after the death of a child from untreated medical conditions raised questions about DHS’ decision-making ability. The newly released report found that child caseworkers failed at determining child safety in 47% of the 101 sampled cases and that social workers didn’t look for safety threats in 27% of their cases and clearly identified the wrong risks in 20%, putting children in unsafe living conditions. The detailed report was shocking to say the least. What the report doesn’t say, is equally horrific.
Senate Human Services Chair Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who requested the report, brought the damning findings to Oregon’s legislative hearing this week. Senator Gelser described how children were left in a home where they were bitten by rats. Gelser stated, “Those children are not safe.” When this report is taken into account with other failures at that hands of DHS, Gelser stated that DHS is in, “a state of chaos and disrepair.”
The report only dealt with 101 cases, which causes more concerns as there are several ongoing cases wherein complaints have been made against child caseworkers, but nothing fruitful has been accomplished, which is not included in the new report. One ongoing case is Christi MacLaren’s, in Jackson County. After she reported to authorities the abuse that was disclosed to her by her daughter, Christi had her daughter ripped from her home and placed with the alleged abuser – the child’s father.
Cori McGovern, the caseworker involved, claimed that Christi had “mentally abused” her own daughter after the father was cleared of sex abuse from a polygraph that McGovern chose the questions for. McGovern never sought collateral reports from professionals who recommended Christi’s daughter not have any contact with the father. McGovern’s own claim that Christi had mentally abused her daughter was refuted by two passed mental health exams that Christi had to take, along with a letter from McGovern’s own superiors at DHS. McGovern, in clear contrast to her superior’s letter, still testified that if Christi were to be granted custody of her daughter then DHS will reopen a child abuse case. McGovern has previously been sued in a separate, but similar case when she took a young girl from a safe mother and placed her in a home where the girl was repeatedly raped. Cori McGovern, a DHS employee, lost that suit, costing Oregon Taxpayer’s over $1 million. More concerning is that McGovern still maintains gainful employment by DHS. She recently testified proudly that she’s never been reprimanded.
Senator Alan Olsen (yellow shirt) with concerned citizens involving DHS
Senate Human Services Co-Chair Alan Olsen, R-Clackamas, and a champion of children, previously stated that he had concerns about, “the unprofessional way that DHS has handled many cases.” He went on to address the Christi MacLaren case by saying, “I saw the bias that Cori McGovern (child caseworker) had.” Senator Olsen has been instrumental in helping pick up the pieces that are left when unaccountable DHS caseworkers ruin children.
The recent report was internal and there was no author named or identified. According to an article in the Oregonian, “Andrea Cantu-Schomus, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the document was written by ‘DHS staff’ and finished in February.”
Another case that highlights the inequities of DHS investigations involves a father, Dain Sansome, who was wrongfully accused of abusing his children. Despite evidence supporting his innocence, DHS caseworkers continued pursuit of criminal charges. After two years of forced separation from his family, Sansome was finally acquitted by a unanimous jury verdict. Despite being found innocent, DHS Caseworker Matthew Stark continued his pursuit of Sansome, threatening to reopen the case if Sansome would not let Stark inside his house – after the jury had already acquitted Sansome. DHS Caseworker Matthew Stark was also held liable in a previous case, similar to DHS caseworker Cori McGovern, in Christi MacLaren’s case. Stark placed a young girl in the custody of her abuser which resulted in the child’s death. Stark, instead of being fired, was eventually promoted. He is now a supervisor at DHS’ Albany, OR branch. Dain Sansome currently has a $9.2 million suit against DHS and Matthew Stark.
DHS Director, Clyde Saiki, has voiced deep concerns with his own agency. He’s told lawmakers that DHS’ outcomes are unacceptable and a different approach is needed. However, back in October of 2016, Saiki said similar things when it was reported by Fox News 12 that “the agency [DHS] failed all 14 of the national standards for child safety and agency accountability.” At that time he rated his agency’s performance saying, “I would give us right now somewhere in the range of a ‘C or C-‘ there’s a lot of room for improvement … I’d give us an ‘A’ for effort though.”
Saiki’s apologist attitude that his agency isn’t solely responsible for its own shortcomings has deeply affected parents like MacLaren and the Sansomes, who have been or are embroiled in DHS cases.
In a statement given to the US~Observer last year, MacLaren pondered, “Why doesn’t someone hold him [Saiki] responsible for the failings of his agency? I mean, they are ruining children and destroying families and no one seems to have any ability to keep them from doing it.”
One of the major problems not mentioned within the new report is the training received by DHS’ child caseworkers – a one month course with no licensing before they’re off doing a job that greatly affects human lives. In one instance, Judge Grensky from Jackson County called child caseworkers, “the custody police”, reaffirming the problem with accountability that exists within DHS.
In total, DHS has been hit with a large number of lawsuits in recent months totaling over one hundred million dollars in claimed liability.
One lawmaker stated that he would like to see some sort of licensing for each child caseworker, so a board can oversee complaints against them, independent from DHS. “That would be a good start,” he proclaimed. He continued, “if we don’t do something now, not only will many children be at further risk, so will our entire system. The lawsuits are real, and as the agency has stated – they are liable… how long can the taxpayer continue to pay for extreme negligence by DHS caseworkers?”
As stated in the Oregonian, “The unnamed author (new report) identified common threads that ran through many of the faulty reports that deemed children safe. Social workers didn’t collect enough information in many cases and failed to investigate beyond specifics of whatever allegation was made. In one example, a social worker talked to the alleged child victim, but not the six other children in the home.
“Many investigations encountered extensive delays and overlooked opinions of ‘collateral contacts’ such as relatives and teachers.”
Oregon is actively investigating three deaths of children, one as recent as January, 2017.
This new report is a grave reminder of the risks children face and the tragic consequences that can result when child caseworkers fail, according to Senator Gelser.
Sadly, many who have dealt with child caseworkers and others who are also child advocates, stated their biggest takeaway from this report was its lack of surprise.
Editor’s Note: One thing is certain, with the failings of DHS caseworkers and the documented harm they do to children and families, the agency’s leadership needs to step-up and start holding them accountable or face replacement. Also, any and all caseworkers whom have been named in suits that resulted in either a settlement or a judgment should be terminated immediately. Our suggestion would be to start with Matthew Stark and Cori McGovern.