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SALEM — The Oregon Department of Human Services might be able to prevent the abuse of children in Oregon’s foster care system by placing their charges more appropriately and better coordinating its response to allegations of abuse, according to draft of an outside assessment of the agency, released Thursday.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown charged an External Advisory Committee comprised of legislators and stakeholders in the state’s foster care system with conducting an independent review of DHS late last year. The draft assessment, prepared by management consultancy Public Knowledge, LLC, was presented to the committee Thursday.

The assessment highlighted how the agency could improve its service to children in state care.

DHS has faced public scrutiny after high-profile allegations of abuse at substitute care facilities, and is also under fire for how some incidents were addressed on an administrative level.

The agency has limited capacity, the draft report found, and children are placed in foster care facilities based on available space, rather than their individual needs. Those facilities, in turn, may not have enough or appropriate assistance, especially for high-need youth. The draft assessment also found case workers ask providers to take in more children than they are certified or licensed to handle.

The assessment also found that the agency is inconsistent in investigating allegations of abuse. The reporting, screening and investigating of alleged abuse in foster care is done locally and so could yield different results in different places.

Information could also be better shared between different entities in the system, the draft assessment found. At least six lawsuits against the agency involved “multiple reports of abuse that were closed at screening or never fully investigated.”

When surveyed, youth in foster care and other reporters of abuse rated the reporting system as “untrustworthy.”

The findings also identified “barriers” to making improvements to the system, which were split into three main categories: “unreasonable” caseloads, the recruitment and retention of providers and a lack of adequate data. Reported abuse of children in foster care has increased in the past several years, the report found.

The External Advisory Committee includes state legislators, as well as care providers and other stakeholders. It’s chaired by Clyde Saiki, the head of DHS.

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