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From foster homes to family

Deer Island man recounts struggles, rewards of adoption through state agency

Clayton Kammer has always wanted kids.

He can remember talking about it with his former husband and, at one point, the two actually got an attorney and looked into fostering children as a precursor to adoption.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CLAYTON KAMMER - Clayton Kammer, shown here walking with his twin sons Gavin and Taylor, officially adopted his children last month. That didn’t work out, but now, after a long venture with the Oregon Department of Human Services, Kammer is about to send his twin 6-year-old boys off to first grade.

The twins, Gavin and Taylor, came into Kammer’s life years ago. They were born to Kammer’s brother and sister-in-law, before being removed from that home by the state over his brother’s substance abuse, Kammer said.

The boys and their biological sister went to different foster homes, one in Warrenton with about 10 other children, Kammer recalls.

Kammer says by the time Gavin and Taylor were placed with him, they had already been shuffled through several different foster homes.

That’s when DHS reached out to Kammer about fostering the boys.

“My partner was absolutely on board, and so we said, ‘yes,’” Kammer recalls. “The conversation occurred on a Tuesday and the van with the kids pulled into our house by Friday.”

“Thank God for Amazon,” Kammer jokes, recounting having to childproof his home in just three days.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CLAYTON KAMMER - Clayton Kammer, shown here with Gavin and Taylor when the boys were younger, said his kids had traumatic experiences in foster care before regaining healthy behavior with him. The boys have since been adopted by Kammer.Kammer, a program manager for a behavioral healthcare facility, immediately noticed behavioral quirks and trauma indicators.

That’s when he started to learn the emotional damage inflicted on the children following a series of stays in foster care homes, some with numerous other children.

“We had Great Dane crates in our garage and they freaked out when they saw the dog crates,” Kammer says. “Their little sister, who is quite articulate, said Taylor had to sleep in one of those one of the nights.”

Kammer also realized that Gavin and Taylor had been punished with hot sauce in a previous foster home.

“We took out organic ketchup for French fries, and my little boy screamed and said he didn’t do anything bad,” Kammer says, noting the twins were afraid of any red sauces in the refrigerator.

“It took a second to process,” he says. “Coming from a mental health integrity, it was really important for me to get them into the right therapist to deal with trauma.”

Kammer says before therapy, the twins were hyper-defensive, quickly blaming others to avoid getting in trouble. They would hide food under their bed and were jumpy for no reason.

The traumatic events Kammer’s sons experienced aren’t the first incidents of abusive behavior stemming from state-approved foster care.

A $60 million lawsuit against the state was filed in March after two young children were starved by their foster parents while in care for more than two years.

Gavin and Taylor’s case is one of hundreds in the county.

Columbia County has one of the highest rates in the state for children in foster care.

According to 2015 data, there were 231 kids in foster care in September, an increase from 193 in 2013. In 2015, nearly 21 kids per 1,000 in the county were in foster care, ranking Columbia County fourth in the state for highest number of foster children, behind Gilliam, Coos and Baker counties.

Kevin George, a child well-being manager for DHS, says the system isn’t perfect, but there are several protocols in place.

Children in foster care through DHS are typically assigned a case worker, an attorney and a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, not affiliated with the state. Caseworkers are required to do monthly visits, but those visits can often occur outside of the foster homes.

“There’s a procedural rule of questions asked during those visits,” George says. “Many of those pertain to safety of the home, do [the children] have what they need, do they feel safe?”

The visits also give caseworkers a chance to check on the physical condition of the children.

During home visits, George says child welfare caseworkers are trained to look for possible signs of neglect or abuse. He said the success of children ultimately comes down to good case work.

“It really is about being able to assess the child and talk with the child to see what they’re doing throughout their time in care,” George explains.

The biggest challenge the state faces is the sheer lack of available foster homes.

“We’re in such critical need of more placements now, you’re really limited in what choices you can make,” he notes.

Since taking in Gavin and Taylor, Kammer and his husband divorced, but Kammer met and fell in love with Eli, who he says adores the children as much as he does. PHOTO COURTESY OF CLAYTON KAMMER - Gavin and Taylor were recently adopted by Clayton Kammer after several stints in foster care. Kammer says he wanted kids, but found ups and downs when working with the state to adopt.

After finalizing the boys’ adoption on July 28, Kammer and Eli moved to his hometown of Deer Island, where Kammer was raised on his family’s farm. Reflecting on the process, Kammer said he doesn’t fault DHS, but feels his family’s success was despite the state agency.

“I’d say, overall, it was not the DHS system that helped us through this process, it was our CASA worker,” he says. “If we would’ve leaned fully on DHS, we would’ve been going to court monthly.”

Kammer’s family is planning an adoption celebration ceremony later this month.

Did you know?

Columbia County ranked fourth highest in the state in 2015 for the number of children per 1,000 in foster care.

The Oregon Department of Human Services lacks enough foster homes for all of the children it serves.

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, visit DHS.