Federal watchdog finds shortcomings in DHS treatment of parents with disabilities

The state Department of Human Services (Courtesy/State of Oregon)

SALEM — A federal civil rights watchdog has found “systemic deficiencies” in the state’s treatment of parents with disabilities.

The Oregon Department of Human Services has agreed to comply with federal laws that protect people with disabilities from discrimination, the agency said Wednesday, Dec. 4.

The agreement was reached voluntarily after the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Housing and Human Services reviewed Oregon’s operations, triggered by news reports and a complaint by an advocate regarding an Oregon couple with disabilities whose children were removed from their care.

The couple had alleged that the state agency removed their kids based on “stereotypical beliefs and discriminatory assumptions” about them, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Human Services.

That department’s Office of Civil Rights asked for state agency data and visited the Oregon agency as part of its review.

In examining Oregon’s child welfare division, the civil rights office “identified systemic deficiencies regarding … implementation of its disability rights policies, practices, and procedures to prevent discrimination against parents with disabilities in Oregon’s child welfare system,” according to a press release from the federal agency.

The state agreed to obey disability rights laws regarding termination of parental rights, update its policies and procedures, create a new training plan on disability rights and assure the federal government it is complying with parts of federal law that protect people with disabilities from discrimination.

The state agency has to submit progress reports every six months.

“A mother’s and father’s love can overcome a multitude of challenges, and a state should only remove children from their parents based on actual evidence of abuse or neglect, not stereotypes,” said Roger Severino, director of the Office of Civil Rights. “Parents with intellectual or other disabilities should not be presumed to be unable to care for their own children.”

Severino said the office “appreciates” the state agency’s “willingness to take affirmative steps to ensure compliance” with federal law and “its recognition of the important role of disability rights in the child welfare system.”

Fariborz Pakseresht, director of the state Department of Human Services, said in a statement that the agency “believes that all children and their families should be safe, healthy, and treated with equity and respect.”

“We appreciate the collaborative approach as well as the assistance of the Office of Civil Rights in helping identify areas for practice improvements to ensure that all families receive the supports and services that meet their individual needs,” Pakseresht said. “This voluntary resolution agreement aligns with our core values and provides us an additional framework to implement best practices to best serve Oregon families.”

Reporter Claire Withycombe: [email protected] or 971-304-4148.