As protests against police violence against Black people played out this summer in Portland, some current and former foster youth in Oregon – disproportionately people of color – were thinking of how they might rid the foster care system of systemic racial bias.
Last week, they got a chance to deliver their ideas to lawmakers and others in authority. Due to the pandemic, this every-other-year policy conference of the Oregon Foster Youth Connection took place online. After four days of work, they presented to more than 100 lawmakers, Oregon Department of Human Services administrators, service providers and community members.
This year, the group called on the Oregon Legislative Assembly to pass a law that would bar abusive foster parents or abusive residential treatment facility staff from ever fostering again.
In addition, the youth want the Department of Human Services to improve the child-removal process by requiring that the team of people involved include Black and Indigenous caseworkers, youth, parents, grandparents and others with child welfare experience. This process, they said, should be reviewed and revised annually to enhance racial sensitivity.
Not stopping there, the group is pushing for DHS to ensure that everyone in a foster home, not just the parents, undergoes cultural sensitivity training. And Black and Indigenous people should be hired to teach mandatory classes about systemic racism in the United States to all DHS workers and partners, right up to the director level.
The young people also had ideas about how the system can help them address the trauma most foster youth have experienced, and how transition-age youth can be better served as they work toward independent adulthood. They recommend that foster children check in with their caseworker without the foster parents being present, and that medical diagnoses and prescriptions be revisited regularly, with a greater diversity of non-pharmaceutical mental health supports.
The presentation is not a biennial feel-good exercise, according to Foster Youth Connection. The group says almost all of its legislative proposals in the past have become law.