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A new report highlights continuing struggles the state faces in addressing homeless children and youth and a high rate of foster care placements

SALEM — Oregon ranks first in the nation for the rate of homeless children and youth and 10th in the percentage of foster care placements, according to a new report by WalletHub, a personal finance website. The organization released the report in August to commemorate Child Support Awareness Month.

Overall, Oregon ranked 12th in the ratio of disadvantaged or underprivileged children, compared with Washington, which ranked 26th, and California, which was 22nd.

The report compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 24 metrics using statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources to rank the states on child welfare. Metrics included the percentage of children living in poverty, the rate of child food insecurity, the state's share of children who have been reported abused and other factors.

In Oregon, the rate of homeless children and foster care placements are somewhat linked. The state's number of homeless students was at a record high in 2016-2017 at 22,541, according to the most recent link. That was a 5.6 percent jump from 2015-2016.

Meanwhile, inadequate housing is the third biggest driver of foster care placements, according to statistics from the Oregon Department of Human Services. The percentage of foster care placements due to inadequate housing has increased from 13 percent in 2015 to 17 percent in 2017.

Christine Stone, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Child Welfare Office, said she was unable to comment on the report Aug. 8, because she couldn't reach the office's experts on foster care placements.

Gov. Kate Brown's office stressed the importance of affordable, stable housing in addressing child welfare.

"Oregon's families need support to stay safely together, and the governor is working to bring more housing under development in the state pipeline as well as focusing on root causes that drive children into foster care, such as addiction treatment and recovery, access to comprehensive health care and domestic violence," said Kate Kondayen, a spokeswoman for Brown. "The governor is also supporting the Department of Human Services Child Welfare division as they work on right-sizing the foster care system."

Some advocates believe mandatory relocation assistance for evicted tenants and rent control policies amid a boom in statewide population and the resulting demand for housing could help curb the trend.

"Without statewide tenant protections in Oregon, people are facing displacement, causing their families to either be ripped apart or live on the streets," said Alison McIntosh of the Oregon Housing Alliance. "Protecting these children should be the first priority" during the state legislative session in January.

A recent state audit shows the Oregon Child Welfare Office is still plagued with no centralized system for reporting child abuse, high caseworker turnover and a lack of follow-through on recommendations from previous routine audits. The office has a shortage of foster parents with no plan to augment the number, according to the audit.

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