Oregon lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce the number of foster children housed in hotels as temporary lodging. (Getty Images)
Oregon lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce the number of foster children staying in hotel rooms because the state cannot find a home or residential facility to shelter them.
The Oregon Department of Human Services has faced a lawsuit from child advocates and mounting criticism for putting foster children up in hotel rooms, where they stay with two state employees or contracted workers.
The children in temporary hotel lodging often have suffered trauma and abuse and been shuffled from home to home. In hotels, rotating shifts of two state employees or contracted workers care for children, rather than the stability of continual adult guardians.
House Bill 4087 would require the state to start and administer a program for children with high needs that would require the state to contract with child-caring agencies that provide residential services and other care, including mental health services, addiction treatment and therapeutic services.
Under the bill, the agencies would get a flat rate of $1,200 per child per day. In comparison, a hotel room stay, meals and the labor costs of two state employees is an average of $2,561 a night.
The House Committee on Early Childhood and Human Services on Wednesday heard testimony on the bill, which the committee chair, Rep. Lisa Reynolds, D-Portland, requested.
Doug Riggs, a lobbyist for the Oregon Alliance: Safe Kids, Healthy Families, Strong Communities, told lawmakers the goal is to help children with a simple contract that pays workers adequately. The bill would require contracted staff to be paid at least $30 an hour.
It’s unclear what the final version of the bill might look like. There are ongoing discussions about what roles the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Human Services would play, partly because of the overlap between child welfare and Medicaid.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Riggs said.
Part of the challenge facing officials is the lack of providers to serve high-needs children, Riggs said. The measure could end up as a pilot project to get started.
A court-appointed expert has made a variety of recommendations, such as putting children in state-staffed houses and apartments, increased rates for foster parents and in-home training and respite care to give families a break.
In an interview with the Capital Chronicle, Riggs said the state needs to act urgently to address the longstanding problem.
“We’re way past time to have dealt with this,” he said. “I think it’s shameful that the state has not dealt with this problem.”
In November, the state released a report that said that 26 foster children and youth were housed in hotels for at least one night in October 2023. From January to August 2023, 92 children and young adults were in temporary lodging, ranging in age from 6 to 19 years old. The group is less than 2% of the state’s children in the foster care system.
Maggie Carlson, an attorney for Youth, Rights & Justice, Oregon’s nonprofit juvenile public defense firm, told lawmakers in submitted testimony the bill would meet the recommendations of Marty Beyer, the court-appointed child welfare expert and Oregon psychologist.
One of those recommendations is more residential options for kids so they have smooth transitions and this bill would help that work, Carlson said.
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