Oregon needs to fix chronic problems with state foster care

By Rep. Knute Buehler

Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon legislative leaders have a serious problem of misplaced priorities.

Instead of working to fix the chronic problems plaguing the state’s foster care program while the Legislature is meeting this month in Salem, we’re debating a massive, new energy tax that likely won’t even pass.

In her State of the State address, rather than assuming responsibility, demonstrating leadership and offering hope to Oregon foster care children, families and caseworkers, Gov. Brown gave a campaign-style speech about her budget priorities for 2019.

In her 26-minute speech, she couldn’t even utter the words “foster care children.”

Gov. Brown: the energy tax can wait, these Oregon children cannot.

Unfortunately, this is now a pattern for this governor and compliant legislative leaders. Ignore the big problems that may be hard to fix like one in four Oregon kids not graduating from high school, an unfunded $25 billion pension liability cannibalizing dollars for classroom learning, or a state Medicaid program improperly paying millions to medical providers instead funding health care for those in need. The list of government chaos, incompetence and misplaced priorities grows each day.

But Oregon’s troubled foster care program is no ordinary story of government incompetence or waste. This is about the lives, safety and well being of roughly 8,000 vulnerable children. Children entrusted to the state for protection.

The recently completed investigation by the Oregon Secretary of State documents many years of heart-breaking problems and mismanagement in state foster care but also includes 24 possible changes, reforms and fixes to the program.

Did the governor put any of these reforms at the top of her agenda? Is the Legislature holding hearings and readying legislation or funding? Astonishingly, no.

The governor of Oregon is the most powerful voice in our state. Unfortunately, Gov. Brown isn’t using her voice or her power to rescue these vulnerable children. No matter your personal politics, this should be concerning.

On the first day of meeting at the Capitol in Salem, I urged the governor and legislative leaders to make foster care reforms our top priority. I proposed allocating an additional $50 million and creating a Rapid Improvement Team to stabilize the program.

I even suggested possible funding sources if current resources can’t be found – something Republicans are often unwilling to do. I am confident, if foster-care funding and reforms were made a priority by those with the power to do so, namely the governor, speaker of the house and senate president, they would enjoy wide bipartisan support. I stand ready to be a constructive leader and partner.

Despite the governor’s indifference, I remain hopeful that before we end the 35-day short Legislative session, enough legislators from both parties will realize that taking action to properly fix and fund foster care should become a higher priority than dithering and debating a controversial new energy tax.

There are thousands of vulnerable Oregon kids and struggling families – along with hardworking child welfare caseworkers – who are counting on us to lead and take action.

Rep. Knute Buehler, a physician, represents District 54 in Bend, and is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.