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Focus on Foster Children: Washington, Oregon sign pact to ease placement with kin

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Published: August 31, 2010, 12:00am

PORTLAND — An interstate agreement signed Monday will have a lasting positive effect on local foster children, officials said.

The agreement, the first of its kind between Washington and Oregon, gives social workers the ability to cut through layers of bureaucratic statutes and expedite the process of placing a child from one state with a relative who lives in the other state. The process could take as little as one week.

The agreement, effective Oct. 1, applies to children from Clark and Cowlitz counties in Washington and Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties in Oregon.

Approximately 150 children are expected to be affected each year.

“All of us knows someone who travels across the Washington-Oregon border every day, and children are no exception,” said Erinn Kelley-Siel, an assistant director with the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Currently, when the state temporarily takes a child away from a parent who’s judged to be unfit, it can take 60 to 90 days to place a child with an approved relative who lives in a different state.

Even with an emergency court order, it can take 30 days, said Maya Brown, manager of the interstate compact program for the Washington Department of Social and Health Services.

Kelley-Siel said when searching for a temporary home for a child, relatives are always at the top the list.

She recalled a 6-year-old girl crying when she found out that her mother, a methamphetamine addict who relapsed, had to go into in-patient treatment. After the girl understood that she was not going to be able to go to treatment with her mother, she started crying again at the idea of having to go live with a stranger.

“I think that’s the face of this agreement,” Kelley-Siel said during a press conference Monday at the Oregon State Office Building.

The border agreement was signed by Dr. Bruce Goldberg, director of the Oregon Department of Human Services, and Susan Dreyfus, secretary of the Washington Department of Social and Human Services.

Goldberg said “the boundaries of states are really arbitrary,” and the agreement allows the agencies to better serve families whose members live in both states.

He recalled a telephone conversation with a Vancouver woman who couldn’t understand why it was going to take so long for her to take temporary custody of a young relative in Portland.

“This is really about having our governments work better,” Goldberg said.

Officials from Washington and Oregon have been talking about trying to reach an agreement for a decade, Kelley-Siel said, and earnestly working on the agreement for approximately a year.

“This may not be the best testament to government efficiency,” Kelley-Siel said.

Statutory regulations are different in each state, which complicates the process, said Brown of DSHS. Under the border agreement, a child can be placed with a relative on provisional terms as soon as the relative clears a safety check, then a social worker in the “receiving state” will do a full evaluation of the placement.

Working out the border agreement didn’t require special funding, officials said.

Harry Gilmore, Brown’s counterpart in Oregon, said other bordering states have interstate agreements regarding foster children but he hadn’t heard of any agreements with a placement period as short as seven days.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.

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