The First Special Session of 2020 was remarkable. In light of a global pandemic, the members of the legislature held hearings remotely and practiced social distancing when voting. Spurred to action by nightly protests condemning racialized policing practices, the legislature took initial steps in response to systemic racism while recognizing there is much more work to be done. The primary purposes of the special session were to address critical budget issues facing the state in due to COVID-19 and to take steps toward police accountability.
The bills passed that most impact YRJ’s clients—children, youth and families involved in the child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems—involve racialized policing and police brutality, foster care placements that support child well-being, honoring the cultural heritage of Native children and their families involved in the child welfare system, and protecting critical access to a court system facing unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic.
Two of YRJ’s 2020 Regular Session priority bills passed during the Special Session: HB 4214A (Oregon Indian Child Welfare Act) and SB 1605 (implementation of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act).
HB 4214A (Oregon Indian Child Welfare Act): In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in response to longstanding and disgraceful practices of separating Native youth from their families, Tribes, and culture. ICWA established standards for the placement of Indian children in foster and adoptive homes and enabled Tribes and families to be involved in child welfare cases. Since its passage, opponents have been challenging the constitutionality of ICWA.
Our experience is that ICWA is inconsistently applied in juvenile courts across the state. As a result, some families receive the additional protections and services to which they are entitled under ICWA while others do not. In Oregon, Native children are placed in foster care at a rate higher than any other racial or ethnic group. (Native children’s disproportionately rate is 3.25 compared to the next highest, African American children, at 1.86 and Caucasian children at 1.02. Native children are 2.3 times as likely as Caucasian children to be in foster care.)
Oregon’s ICWA codifies the federal law, creating additional safeguards for Native children to address disproportionate rates of removal, improving the treatment of and services provided to Native children and Native families in the child welfare system and ensuring that Native children who must be removed are placed with Native families, communities and cultures.
SB 1605 (implementation of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act): Much of SB 1605 is focused on ensuring children in foster care are in safe and appropriate placements. The bill limits the ability of DHS to place foster children out-of-state, requiring that any out-of-state child-caring agency meets Oregon’s licensing and contracting requirements before accepting placement of an Oregon child. The bill enhances transparency of out-of-state facilities, requiring full access to records and disclosure of child abuse investigations, licensing violations, and serious injuries to children in the agency’s care. SB 1605 limits placement of children in congregate care (group home settings), requiring that congregate care homes either meet additional requirements for evidence-based treatment (called a “qualified residential treatment program”) or fit within a narrow exception to the additional requirements. Court oversight is also required, requiring DHS to seek court approval within 30 days of placement of the child in a qualified residential treatment program.
YRJ thanks legislators for their bi-partisan support of bills that improve outcomes for children and families. While the 2020 Special Session had many successes–police accountability, economic security and housing support, Oregon ICWA, and protecting foster children—there is much more work to be done. YRJ continues to advocate for reforms to the child welfare, juvenile justice, and education systems and partner with legislators to defend the rights of children, youth and families involved in these systems.