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2B Wednesday, March 22, 2017 Appeal Tribune
Workers union joins fray on child welfare
Calls to improve Oregon’s child wel-
fare system grew louder Wednesday as
one of the largest public employee
unions released a report saying case-
workers are overburdened and the agen-
cy needs more staff.
The Service Employees International
Union Local 503 represents about 2,000
child welfare staffers among its 55,000
Oregon workers, according to a union
The report comes as top officials
from the Department of Human Ser-
vices are slated to present their budget
plans to the Joint Ways and Means Sub-
committee on Human Services. DHS Di-
rector Clyde Saiki kicked off the series
Tuesday, giving an overview of the agen-
cy’s status and briefly addressing its
child welfare predicament.
“We have not invested enough in our
staff and we need to fix that,” Saiki told
lawmakers in a Capitol hearing room. He
said the internal staffing level was
around 83 percent for child welfare.
Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Wood-
burn, said that staffing level was higher
than what some of her constituents who
work for DHS had seen. She requested
that DHS Child Welfare Director Lena
Alhusseini come prepared with numbers
on how many more staff would be need-
ed to meet foster child and parent needs.
“I need to know what it is that we
need,” Alonso Leon said. Alhusseini will
present on her arm of the agency on
April 3 and 4 in Salem.
Public records show the child welfare
program accounts for $1.05 billion or 9
percent of DHS’ budget under Gov. Kate
STATESMAN JOURNAL FILE
The Oregon Department of Human Services building in Salem.
Brown’s proposed 2017-2019 budget.
DHS officials have cited understaff-
ing and high turnover as issues.
The union report only adds another
layer of scrutiny to DHS. Even after an
independent review of the agency called
by Gov. Kate Brown wrapped up last
September, Secretary of State Dennis
Richardson said this month his office is
beginning an audit of Oregon’s foster
The union in its report said more than
half of respondents to a survey conduct-
ed last August said their caseloads ex-
ceed the recommended allotment. The
survey, which was qualitative in nature,
included 63 interviews with child wel-
fare workers around the state. Workers
were asked: “How has lack of funding,
staffing, training or support for child
welfare services impacted you or your
The union said 57 percent of respon-
dents talked about the excess of cases.
Barbara Walsh, an office specialist with
the DHS Child Welfare Office in Med-
ford, said caseloads have doubled in re-
cent years and staffers are having a hard
time keeping up.
“The caseloads are so heavy that
we’re losing caseworkers,” she said.
Director Saiki on Tuesday said the
agency must ensure “not just a place-
ment for a child, but the most appropri-
ate placement for a child,” but that may
be a hard ask at a time when there ap-
pears to be a deficit of foster homes.
A recent estimate suggested there
were around 8,000 children in Oregon’s
foster care system. The number of certi-
fied foster homes has slid in recent
years. A DHS spokeswoman in January
said there were 3,847 certified foster
homes in 2015, down from 4,673 in 2010.
Saiki said the agency needs to work to
reduce the number of children in foster
care. “We have one of the highest rates of
kids in foster care in the nation, and we
really need to address that,” he said.
His remark spurred a question from
Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend: “Why do
you think we have such a high rate of
kids in foster care?”
Saiki responded: “We’re digging into
that, but I think one factor is again, we’re
a very risk-averse agency, and so if
there’s any even an inkling that there
could be an issue, we default to the posi-
tion of taking the child into care as op-
posed to saying, ‘What can we do to en-
sure the child’s safety and have the child
remain in their home?’”
He called it “kind of a cultural issue
that we need to change,” but acknowl-
edged that the choice for caseworkers is
“one of the hardest decisions they have
Send questions, comments or news
tips to jbach @statesmanjournal.com or
503-399-6714. Follow him on Twitter
PHOTOS BY ZACH URNESS / STATESMAN JOURNAL
Oregon state park ranger Travis Korbe points out an area where whales might be spotted from the Cape Trail at Cape Lookout State Park south of Tillamook.
As crowds rise, Oregon’s state parks
seek rangers, improvement funding
The number of people visiting Ore-
gon’s state parks has skyrocketed during
the past decade, hitting a record 51 mil-
lion visits in 2016.
But the number of park rangers
hasn’t changed much during the same
period, officials said, leading to chal-
lenges in keeping parks clean and facil-
ities up to date.
To remedy that, parks officials want
to hire an additional 42 rangers and put
an extra $1 million into the budget for
maintaining and improving parks during
the coming two years.
Money would come from the park’s
main funding sources — the Oregon Lot-
tery and fees from visitors and RV regis-
tration. Parks do not receive funding
from the taxpayer general fund.
“We’re in a situation right now where
our user fees are up and our lottery
funds are stable,” Oregon Parks and
Recreation Director Lisa Sumption said.
“We have the budget to cover this with-
out taking something else away. This is a
good time to add staff to ensure visitors
are having the best possible experi-
The total amount OPRD is requesting
for 2017-19 is $219.5 million. That’s up
from a $201.9 million in 2015-17 and
$181.5 million in 2011-13.
The need for more rangers is reflect-
ed in the numbers, officials said. Visita-
tion is up 16 percent overall and 45 per-
cent in the off-season — when parks
doesn’t have access to seasonal staff —
since 2007. But the number of full-time
employees is only up 2.5 percent in the
and Recreation Department
2005-07: $187 million
2007-09: $203.9 million
2009-11: $187 million
2011-13: $181.5 million
2013-15: $189.6 million
2015-17: $201.9 million (budgeted)
2017-19: $219.5 million requested
Money comes from the Oregon Lottery (47
percent), visitor fees/RV fees (47 percent) and
federal grants (6 percent).
“If you were running a business and it
was up 45 percent you’d put more re-
sources into it,” Sumption said. “We have
to make sure we have enough people on
the ground to support the visitors.”
OPRD scaled back the number of new
parks it has opened since 2013. The agen-
cy opened nine new parks from 2004 to
Since that time, only one new park is
planned, Sitka Sedge Natural Area,
which should open this summer. “We hit
pause on new land acquisitions to ensure
we were taking care of the system we al-
ready had,” Sumption said.
“This is a tough call, asking for staff
given the overall health of the Oregon
budget,” OPRD spokesman Chris Havel
said. “But we can’t put it off any more.”
Robyn Orr hikes with her 5-month-old daughter, Lucy, on the Cape Trail at Cape Lookout State
Park on the Oregon Coast south of Tillamook.