A bill that holds great potential to reduce the number of children who are in foster care in Oregon so they can remain in their families may have gotten less attention than it deserves in the Oregon legislature's rush to adjourn.
Senate Bill 964 would require the Department of Human Services and its county partners to implement "strengthening, preserving and reunifying families programs to provide family preservation and reunification child welfare services."
In testimony before the Ways and Means Human Services Subcommittee last month, Lynne Saxton, executive director of ChristieCare, said, "According to industry data, there are 8,689 children in foster care in Oregon today. For every 10,000 kids in the state, 100 are in foster care. The national average is 57 and the average in Tennessee is 45."
"Stop and think about this statistic for a moment," she added. "It is nothing if not sobering."
SB 964 was developed by Senator Alan Bates, D-Ashland, with the help of Saxton and Rita Sullivan, director of the On-Track Program in Jackson County, which has successfully diverted children from foster care or from long stays apart from their families.
For Saxton, passage of SB 964, which is awaiting action in the full House and Senate, will bculminate an important quest. She has positioned ChristieCare, which has been in business in Oregon serving the residential care needs of children and youth for more than 150 years, to be involved in a new venture called "Oregon Intercept." It is a program that will be offered with ChristieCare's new partner, Youth Villages, which has produced a laudable record of controlling foster care caseloads in a number of other states by offering a variety of interventions to keep families together, rather than taking children away.
"What we need in Oregon," Saxton said, "are proven, cost-effective alternatives to more expensive foster care and residential services, as well as prevention services that allow us to preserve and strengthen families before they fall apart. That'e exactly what we will be able to offer to Oregon's children and families through SB 964."
Footnote: The author, CFM partner Dave Fiskum, has represented ChristieCare in Salem for several legislative sessions and, thus, was involved in dealing with the issues in Senate Bill 964.