Critics: Better DHS training needed after siblings pulled from home

Critics: Better DHS training needed after siblings pulled from home

PORTLAND, Ore. – Some critics of how the Oregon Department of Human Services pulled two children from the foster parents who wanted to adopt them, want better job training for caseworkers.

The DHS removed the brother and sister from the home of Brenda Lincoln and Willie Norman in October. The children had been living with them for two and a half years. The brother and sister are about to be sent to live with new foster parents in Eugene.

That's even though the judge and therapists said it was the "worst thing" that could happen to the kids.

DHS documents obtained by KATU show DHS contradicts itself in its reasons for removing the children. At times it says the couple never told DHS certain things, but the records show DHS already knew about them.

As KATU News reported Thursday, Multnomah County Judge Susan Svetkey told DHS, "I can't remember a time where I have been so upset, professionally and personally on how a case has been handled."

The judge said in court she's frustrated the Legislature didn't give judges the power to tell DHS what to do. DHS alone has the power to decide who's a foster parent.

The judge also said "the timing of all of this is concerning and suspicious."

Norman and Lincoln are black, and the children are white. There have been murmurings that race had something to do with the removal of the children. Norman wouldn’t go that far in an interview.

"I prefer not to say that, but I think if you look at all the documents that are out there, and the circumstances of how they removed the kids from our home, it could have," he said. "I can't say. I can't put my finger on it."

DHS documents pin the decision to remove the kids on a domestic violence charge against Norman, but records show the agency was aware of the accusation before placing the kids in the home and determined it didn't matter.

The frontline DHS caseworkers are often young and inexperienced, and the job is stressful. Critics would like to see more training and standards to help them deal with the volatile situations they face when removing kids and placing them in foster care.

Don Darland, a founding member of the Oregon Foster Parent Association, doesn't know the specifics of this case, but believes DHS needs to do a better job training its caseworkers.

"Unless they're a licensed clinical social worker, they don't have to have a license," he said. "I would like to see, and we presented legislation in the past, that they have a certification like a teacher, because we want our teachers to be trained, we want our plumbers to be trained. We want doctors, we want nurses to be trained. Well, our child welfare caseworkers, they're not certified."

Darland said foster parents have little power despite a state foster parent Bill of Rights.

"There's no teeth behind them, because if they're violated there's nothing that says somebody is held accountable," he said. "They say we have a right to certain things, but if someone doesn't provide those things, than there’s really no recourse."

He said asking the Legislature to give judge's more power is tricky.

"We've had that argument for many years," he said. "Should we, should we not? Should the judges have that (power)? And in some cases – in maybe this case – it would have solved something. In other cases – so it's a hard question to answer because each case is so dynamically different."

A spokesman for DHS previously said the agency cannot talk about specific cases. Because state employees were on furlough on Friday, no one at DHS was available to speak in general terms.

But DHS and all state agencies are struggling with funding and more training takes more funding.

The On Your Side Investigators want to hear from you. Email them at investigators@katu.com.