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Lawsuit filed against Oregon after foster care ‘crisis’ forces kids in motels, offices

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According to the department of Human Services, Oregon's foster care system has lost the equivalent of 400 beds in family homes and 100 beds in residential facilities in the last two years. (KPTV)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Two Portland law firms have filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Human Services to prevent any more foster kids in the state’s care from spending the night in DHS offices or hotel rooms.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a KPTV investigation which exposed the crisis in Oregon’s foster care system.

The law firms filed the complaint Tuesday afternoon on behalf of two unnamed foster children from Multnomah County. Those kids are represented by Portland lawyer Richard Vangelisti, who was appointed their legal guardian.

Vangelisti said this lawsuit was filed not just for them, but for all kids in Oregon who find themselves in similar situations.

DHS Director Clyde Saiki and Deputy Director Reginald Richardson are specifically named as defendants in the 28 page lawsuit, seeking class action status which says:

“Tonight, some of the most vulnerable children in the state of Oregon will sleep on temporary cots in state offices; in hotel rooms; in hospitals, despite being cleared for discharge; or in juvenile detention facilities, despite the absence of any criminal charge against them.”

While Vangelisti said he can’t get into the specifics of their situation, he said both kids were deeply impacted by their disorganized housing situation while in DHS custody.

“In one instance, one of the children has been placed in at least three hotels and moved from hotel to hotel, and the other child we’re aware of, one instance in which they were placed in hotel as opposed to a foster home,” said Vangelisti.

Back in August, Fox 12 sat down with retired Washington County DHS Supervisor Patty Cooper, who said the state is dealing with a major foster placement crisis and caseworkers aren’t able to find enough places for children to stay overnight.

Cooper said because nothing like this has ever happened before, caseworkers made the rules up as they went.

Cooper recalled the first time they ever had kids stay in their offices this year.

“It started with one or two children that didn’t have a placement, and they stayed in our office. That first night we all pitched in and bought pizza for the kids. People really rallied behind them being here, and since then it’s just grown,” said Cooper.

DHS told Fox 12 over the last two years, Oregon’s foster care system has lost the equivalent of 400 beds in family homes and 100 beds in residential facilities.

In 2015, DHS said they had an average of about 7,500 children in state care. A major factor, they say, in finding homes for all foster kids.

Vangelisti said the lawsuit is not seeking money. It’s purpose is to determine the scope of the problem within DHS, identify a cause, and compel the state to stop placing Oregon’s children in hotels.

“DHS acknowledged that at least as many as six children per week on average are being placed in DHS offices or hotels. We think the number may be even higher. Some DHS data that we have is perhaps in at least 63 instances children have been put in hotels or offices as opposed in to proper placements,” said Vangelisti.

Fox 12 reached out to DHS for comment in regards to the lawsuit, they said they can not comment on pending litigation.