AP NEWS

Douglas County Republicans oppose keeping foster kids in jail

April 11, 2019

Foster children don’t belong in current or former jails, and they should never be shipped to out-of-state institutions, according to the Douglas County Republican Central Committee, which voted last week in favor of a resolution against the treatment that many of Oregon’s foster kids receive.

“Being a foster child in Oregon is not a crime and the care of foster children should never resemble the appearance of such,” the resolution states.

“Why should a kid be treated like a criminal just because they’re placed in a foster situation?” said Republican Party Chairwoman Valynn Currie in an interview this week about the decision. “They should be treated as a human being, with all the rights and privileges of someone rather than being treated like a criminal.”

Currie said foster children deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see how these children are being abused, and not just by their parents but by the system,” she said.

Currie adopted two young children about 30 years ago, and said it takes a lot of care but it’s worth reaching out to kids from troubled homes and making sure they aren’t just thrown away. She said the state needs to reach out to more adults who would be willing to take care of children in need.

“Maybe they need to have an outreach and let people know that this is a need, and it could be that the public’s not aware of the need and how the people can take care of these kids in a better atmosphere than what they’re being given right now. I can’t imagine a worse atmosphere than being put in a facility that is a jail or a former jail,” she said.

The Republicans’ resolution cites recent news reports from The Oregonian and OPB showing that hundreds of Oregon’s foster care children are housed in jail facilities or similar institutions across the state, and more than 80 foster care children aged 9 to 18 are currently being housed at institutions outside of Oregon.

The Oregonian story cited a foster care housing program run by the Douglas County Juvenile Department as an example of housing foster kids in a former juvenile detention center, but Juvenile Department Director Aric Fromdahl said the paper’s depiction of the program was inaccurate.

Fromdahl said the county was contracted by the state last year to conduct a pilot program for diverting foster kids that were then being held in hotels. After the pilot program ended, the county continued to run a similar program, he said, and is currently contracted to house 40 kids. Eight youth reside in the county’s River Rock shelter care facility at any given time, he said, and the place where they’re staying has never been either a detention center or a jail facility.

Another 16 beds are available for girls at the Creekside Shelter Facility, which was formerly the Roseburg Police Department building. There are 16 beds for boys at the Fowler House Shelter Facility across from the Douglas County Courthouse. A project to restore the old Pitchford Ranch into housing for foster kids is in the planning stages.

Fromdahl said he hopes to share information about the program with the Republicans, and said he believes if that happens they will see that the criticism the program has received isn’t fair.

He said it’s not realistic to suggest there will be enough foster families to care for the youth currently living in the county’s facilities. While they’re here, they’re kept off the street, out of trouble and in the state, he said.

“The benefit is shared by all,” Fromdahl said. “We are providing a safe, stable and nurturing environment for your youth in crisis.”

While the Republican resolution passed last week doesn’t directly name the Douglas County program, it does cite a particularly egregious example of what can happen to children sent to facilities outside of the state.

That involves the state’s decision to send Oregon foster children to the Clarinda Academy, a former Iowa prison campus that has made headlines nationwide for allegedly subjecting Washington and California children placed there to abuse, neglect and even sexual assault.

Now that it has passed its resolution, Currie said the Republicans plan to build support for their cause. They will reach to the state legislators who represent this area, and also across the aisle to local Democrats to see if they will join in support of the resolution. Or, as the resolution puts it, “Protecting our children and saving them from hellacious conditions is not a partisan issue.”