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.
Senator Sara Gelser
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
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
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. This cost 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
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
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
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
million suit against DHS and Matthew Stark.
Saiki, Director of Oregon
Department of Human Services, meets
with the Statesman Journal for an
interview in Salem.
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
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.”
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
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
"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.
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.
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
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.
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