SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — After years of inaction, state leaders are opening up about thousands of cases of neglect and abuse with the Department of Human Services.
DHS deals with some of the most complicated cases involving foster children.
But KOIN 6 News learned the cases in question didn’t involve minor mistakes, but widespread neglect and the misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars over several years.
DHS Interim Director Clyde Saiki, who was recently appointed by Governor Kate Brown, admits it’s “very difficult to control all aspects of the system.”
“I cannot guarantee that every single child is safe,” he said. “It keeps me up at night.”
Records show, under DHS care, children as young as 3 were reportedly raped. Another DHS investigation concluded senior citizens died from substantiated abuse. One of the department’s most recent mea culpas involved a $15 million lawsuit on behalf of 9 children abused by a Salem foster parent.
DHS also received complaints about Give Us This Day, a foster care provider in Portland, for more than 10 years. Complaints included allegations that children were denied food, people were assaulted and even raped.
Hundreds of DHS emails related to the facility revealed that department heads knew many Give Us This Day caregivers and employees had criminal records.
Give Us This Day was also operating without a proper license.
But amidst these serious allegations, DHS leaders spent their time making sure they didn’t offend the director of the troubled foster care facility. They reportedly focused on the wording of their emails to her, making sure they offered her sufficient praise.
Chelsea Matthews, who spent time at homes affiliated with Give Us This Day, reached out to KOIN 6 News after watching previous investigation pieces about the facility.
“We didn’t get breakfast because she didn’t like to wake up in the mornings,” Matthews recalled. “I have flashbacks, I have nightmares.”
Matthews says one foster family member was especially abusive to her in 9th grade.
“[We] started arguing, I was like I don’t want to be here… comes over and starts pounding me in the face. Starts punching me, and she’s punching me all over my chest, stomach and face,” she said. “They’re like ‘we’re going to deny it, and you lied and you’re going to get in trouble.’ So I’m like OK, I’m not going to say anything.”
Today, Matthews admits she’s not the easiest person to deal with. She says she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and spent time in a juvenile detention center.
Her case is just one of many involving allegations against Give Us This Day.
There is also a case of a child who claims she had sex with a staff member and various reports of sexual and verbal abuse. In many cases, there was no investigation.
“Currently, there is no system in place to cross-check any red flags,” Saiki said.
Since Saiki stepped in as interim director a few months ago, 2 foster care agencies have received letters for revoked licenses. More are coming.