Is Oregon DHS putting political correctness ahead of children’s wellbeing?

Colin Cortbus

Colin Cortbus

by Colin C. Cortbus

Oregon Officials Told To Ignore Immigration Status When Considering Relatives’ Foster Parent Applications

Oregon’s Department of Human Services instructs its social workers to disregard the immigration status of relatives when considering them as potential foster parents for a child taken into care. Experts warn that placing foster children with illegal immigrants can lead to disrupted, short-lived placements with long-term, detrimental developmental effects for the child.

The department’s official “Valuing Diversity in Casework Practice” training materials make clear the Oregon’s child care workers should ignore the question of whether migrant relatives of a child taken into care are in the US legally when considering them as potential foster parents. They state “When it comes to relatives, immigration or residency status does not matter.” They go as far as instructing social workers to not even make enquiries regarding the (il)legal immigration status of such relatives “If they say they’ve been in Mexico, you can request a record check from the Consulate. Make sure to tell them you are not checking on immigration status, whether or not they have legal or illegal status, but rather checking on criminal history to ensure suitability as a placement for the child.“

The diversity training materials, which were kindly disclosed to Oregon Catalyst following a public records request, form part of the “core” curriculum used to train Department of Human Services (DHS) child care workers. They were “developed” by Rudy Torres of Portland State University, and by Oscar Herrera, the “Cultural Competency Coordinator” at the DHS.

It remains unclear whether illegal migrants are considered for foster parenthood if they are not related to the child. However, the specialist “Pathways to Permanency” training program for DHS Child Care specialists involved foster parent & child matching features an exercise that suggests workers are trained to put aside “bias” against illegal immigrants as potential long-term foster parents. The program’s three-hour “Bias & Matching” training session, developed by Michelle Warden of Portland State University, includes a “First Reactions” exercise. Here, DHS workers are asked to write down their personal responses to certain categories of people, as part of a process of “Assessing our personal bias” and “Moving beyond personal bias to find the best fit for a child”. The ‘First Reactions’ list of categories includes “people who don’t speak English” and “People who have immigrated to this country but who are undocumented”, a euphemism for illegal immigrants primarily used by liberal immigration reform campaigners.

Oregon Catalyst has contact the DHS, and the authors of the training materials individually, for comment, but is still awaiting a full response.

Oregon DHS’s politicized diversity instructions come despite extremely serious expert concerns about the risks associated with placing foster kids with illegal immigrants. This isn’t a question of being pro- or anti-immigration or amnesty. It is a fundamentally pragmatic, non-political child welfare issue. Having experienced traumatic, stressful situations, foster kids need stability and permanency to prosper. Illegal immigrants, by definition, live a legally precarious existence and are at great risk of running into problems with immigration enforcement authorities, employers, landlords or the police. In the US, parents can, and often do, face sudden deportation even if it results in their children being taken away from them or destroys the family unit. Illegal immigrant families may abruptly have to change locations to evade immigration enforcement authorities, or move frequently from city to city to survive in the precarious, short-term market for illicit employment, uprooting kids from their schools and friendship groups. Thus, illegal immigrant foster parents are at an immense risk of not being able to provide the stability foster kids need.

New York Yeshiva University social work professor Dr. Daniel Pollack discussed concerns about the unsuitability of illegal immigrants as foster parents in a 2012 article in the Policy & Practice Journal, the authoritative, specialist magazine for child care professionals published by the highly respected, bipartisan American Public Human Services Association. He wrote “If in the process of evaluating a foster home applicant it is discovered that the applicant is an undocumented immigrant (often revealed by an incorrect social security number), should this status alone be a bar to approval? If this discovery is made after approval of the applicant has already been made, should the license be rescinded? A number of foster care certifiers, supervisors, administrators, and attorneys with whom I spoke all said “yes.” This is not a matter of bias; it is a matter of stability. If the applicant will potentially face deportation proceedings or may otherwise become entangled with immigration authorities, the placement will likely be disrupted and the child will need yet another placement.” Dr Pollack likened the situation to the outrage consumers would feel over a manufacturer knowingly selling them an unsafe, injury-causing product and concluded “Whatever the explanations, it is unethical to knowingly or recklessly place a child into a setting that has an enhanced likelihood of being unnecessarily short-lived.”

There is absolutely no dispute among child care professionals about the devastating effects short-lived, unstable foster parent placements can have on kids. The Federal Government’s Children’s Bureau warns “A large body of evidence links multiple placements with behavioral and emotional problems, education difficulties, and juvenile delinquency”. Devastating emotional damage can also result: “as children experience placement disruptions, they can develop a sense of profound distress, loss and absence of belonging which can then lead to feelings of distrust and fear about forming healthy relationships with others”. Oregon DHS child care worker training program itself seems to acknowledge this. One document used as part of its “Pathways to Permanency” training lists the “ability to provide safety and permanency for the child” as the first among the “considerations when assessing families“ for foster parenthood.

Given these clear risks, the question has to be asked: Is Oregon’s DHS recklessly risking the wellbeing of children in its care as part of a politically correct “diversity” drive?

Colin Cortbus is a freelance journalist – his investigative work has appeared in the UK Daily Mirror, the UK Daily Star, the Berliner Kurier and Channel 7 (Israel).