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CYFS included on state 'radar list'

Legislature — Newberg care provider was one of several flagged on internal DHS document

GARY ALLEN - State review -- The Department of Human Services flagged Chehalem Youth and Family Services as one of several residential youth care providers 'of concern' to the state agency, and in November ordered a review of the facilities.Chehalem Youth and Family Services was among several state-licensed residential care facilities placed on a “radar list” of problematic facilities kept by the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), although it is unclear what exactly prompted its inclusion.

The radar list dates back to 2012 when DHS executives asked the Office of Licensing and Regulatory Oversight to create a document in order to keep DHS apprised of licensed facilities that were “of concern,” DHS public affairs director Gene Evans told reporters in early December.

The list also aimed to identify facilities that repeatedly experience the same issues. But it was only intended to track facilities that DHS felt should be monitored, Evans explained, and to keep DHS officials aware of what was going on.

“It was never a ‘watch list’ of locations where immediate action was needed or recommended – it was only an internal advisory document,” he said.

While DHS has not yet explained why CYFS was on the list, Evans released “informal criteria” used to determine whether facilities should be added.

The criteria for inclusion included whether the facility has a high severity or volume of complaints and allegations, a high number of deficiencies identified in site visits or reviews, whether there have been actions taken by licensing staff such as restriction of admission to the facility or license suspension/revocation, decertification of the facility, stakeholder interest, media attention or chronic non-compliance.

Portland foster care agency Give Us This Day closed at the end of September following media coverage of extensive problems within the organization. In the wake of that closure, on Nov. 25 DHS managers from various departments were convened and interim DHS director Clyde Saiki ordered a review of all the youth facilities on the radar list, which besides CYFS includes Eastern Oregon Academy, Inn Home for Boys, Kairos, Scotts Valley School, Youth Progress and Youth Villages.

As a result of that review DHS stopped referring youths to Youth Villages – which has since announced it will stop offering residential services at its Lake Oswego campus in March – and issued “intent to revoke” letters to Youth Villages and Scotts Valley School. Those facilities were pinpointed due to safety, supervision and staffing issues, according to Evans.

CYFS was not issued any such letter, nor were referrals stopped to the Newberg agency, but it is still unclear from DHS’s perspective why the facility was on the list to begin with.

Newberg-Dundee Police Chief Brian Casey said he has been in contact with the state, but at this point he is also unsure what exactly DHS is looking into with regard to CYFS.

As the DHS review was getting underway, a group of 30-plus programs for troubled young people called Oregon Alliance of Children’s Programs met before the holiday season to discuss the DHS situation, CYFS executive director Deborah Cathers-Seymour said. The Newberg program was not the only one with concerns about DHS.

“The program directors are united in their dedication to youth safety and wellbeing, yet they are quite troubled by DHS’s heavy-handed oversight tactics and blame shifting onto a few programs the system-wide problems DHS has created that undermine the success of all of Oregon’s youth in care through unfunded mandates, excessive red tape and inadequate reimbursement for care,” Cathers-Seymour said in an email. “These keep our state’s care providers for vulnerable youth on the edge of serious crisis much of the time.”

In a media release on the revelation that CYFS was on the DHS list, Cathers-Seymour attributed it to two main factors. She said many of the issues that have come up are related to paperwork or documentation.

“First, DHS doesn’t have the time to clear up the backlog of routine incidents they have to investigate under their own rule making,” she wrote. “Secondly, we briefly refused to take certain actions DHS required because we believed it put a particular teen and staff in danger.”

An email from Jim Seymour of Catholic Community Services to a wide range of Newberg community members provides more detail on the incident in question. Seymour is Cathers-Seymour’s husband.

In light of the media attention bringing attention to facilities on the list, Seymour wrote to share his perspective on the situation and to explain why he felt the facility should not be included on the list.

He described a recent situation in which the foster care facility was in disagreement with DHS over what was best for one of the youths in a CYFS home. The youth was a 17-year-old male who was six feet tall and weighed more than 230 pounds, Seymour said.

The youth was repeatedly destroying window alarms, to the point that DHS required CYFS staff to test the alarms once on each shift at the home. But testing the alarm on the overnight shift would wake the youth up “and put staff in danger as well as precipitating runaways,” Seymour said.

Based on the lack of overnight testing of the window alarm, DHS found CYFS and Cathers-Seymour “guilty of neglecting the youth,” Seymour said, a finding which CYFS has since appealed.

That appeal will not be resolved until sometime this month or later, he said, even though the events in question began more than a year ago.

After that situation CYFS requested additional funds from DHS to provide more supervision for the 17-year-old, but the state agency declined to provide more money, Seymour said. So CYFS gave notice that the youth would have to be moved as the facility was unable to prevent him from running away. But in spite “of their own neglect finding DHS wanted the youth to stay in the program, as did the (youth’s) parents,” Seymour wrote.

When the parents appealed the move CYFS kept the youth longer than intended.

In a release about the DHS situation, Cathers-Seymour said CYFS welcomes an independent review of its programs and the points of disagreement with the state agency.

“In this work, there are incidents of youth aggression on a frequent basis on one or another of our homes,” she said. “But this has nothing to do with abuse or neglect of teens.”

CYFS is working to negotiate a resolution with DHS and the organization does not plan to make further public statements at this time to avoid compromising that resolution, Cathers-Seymour said.

A few weeks after the radar list of youth facilities was released to the media, DHS announced it would stop using the list to track problematic facilities in favor of finding a new approach that does not rely on informal criteria.