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Oregon DHS admits some mistakes after penning multimillion-dollar contract with unlicensed provider

The Oregon Department of Human Services building is pictured in Salem, Ore., on Sept. 26, 2019. Beleaguered and increasingly desperate child welfare workers trusted the private, for-profit Sequel Youth and Family Services with the state's most vulnerable children, despite allegations of abuse.

An internal report by the state’s Department of Human Services, shown in this 2019 file photo, admitted the agency made mistakes when they paid millions to an unlicensed provider to watch some of the state’s most vulnerable children in hotels and short-term rentals without offering much oversight.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

An internal report by the Oregon Department of Human Services admitted the agency made mistakes when they paid millions to an unlicensed provider, the Keizer-based nonprofit called Dynamic Life, to watch some of the state’s most vulnerable children.

The report came after pressure from lawmakers, Sen. Sara Gleser Blouin, D-Corvallis in particular, who at one point in a legislative hearing asked what the state got for one $1.3 million contract signed with Dynamic Life. The director of ODHS, Fariborz Pakseresht, could not say.

The state signed multiple contracts with the company, paying them millions of dollars to watch vulnerable kids in hotels and short-term rentals without offering much oversight. Many staff members hired by Dynamic Life did not have the proper background checks. Public records also revealed they repeatedly physically restrained the kids, despite not having the proper training or certification to do so. The state paid Dynamic Life more than 100 times what it typically pays foster parents.

After an OPB investigation in November looking at the relationship between the state and Dynamic Life, Department of Human Services officials canceled the contract in December.

The internal investigation notes there were some gaps in communication when it came to signing the contracts with Dynamic Life, which started at $500,000 but quickly grew to a $12 million contract. The state said it will centralize its contract process rather than have various local offices ink agreements with individual companies.

The state also promised to ask its internal department of human services auditing team to examine the child welfare’s contracting processes and examine how the agency can have oversight over contractors. The Oregon Department of Justice will complete a review of the issues raised about Dynamic Life and the state’s contracts. A personnel investigation has been opened.

Gelser Blouin, who chairs the Senate Committee on Human Services, said the internal report was more of the same from an agency that struggles to take accountability for its role in children’s lives and instead places blame elsewhere.

“They took something that is a very serious issue that is not resolved by canceling this contract and tried to describe it as a back office paperwork issue when it was a very serious child welfare issue,” Gelser Blouin said.

The report ends by pointing out that trying to find placements for these kids has led to “extreme stress and harm to child welfare workers.”

Gelser Blouin has noted a tendency by the state’s child welfare department to place blame on the kids’ complex social and behavioral needs, despite having struggled for decades to find appropriate placements for them.

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