Oregon has approximately 21,000 children who need placement in foster homes, but only 1,800 foster homes, said state Rep. Andy Olson, during a community meeting in downtown Albany on Thursday night.

“You can see the problem there,” he added.

The meeting, held at the Flinn Block Hall, was focused on problems in the foster care system, and about 40 people attended.

Olson urged residents to recruit potential foster parents who could provide loving homes for children.

Wendy Brownell, former president of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Linn County, wondered why people were no longer interested in being foster parents.

Chaundra Carter of Albany, a former foster parent, said that families are being scared away because of false allegations and the Oregon Department of Human Services’ harsh response to those claims.

“People are petrified, because anyone can say anything about you as a foster parent and you’re guilty, end of discussion,” said Rich Ransom of Albany, who was a foster parent for 16 years.

Ransom added that he’s considering becoming a foster parent again, but there needed to be changes to the system first.

Olson said that work was being done to identify standards for how a DHS investigation would be concluded.

Duane Stark, a state representative from southern Oregon and a foster parent, told residents to speak up if they see something that’s broken with the system — and especially if they have potential solutions.

He said that a major problem for DHS is that there’s a lack of standardization when screening abuse calls, and there needs to be automatic triggers for when a case needs additional attention.

Marco Benavides, DHS district manager, said that his agency has a high caseload and a difficult time retaining workers, many of whom are teenagers due to low pay.

“Our most senior workers have five years of work,” he said.

Stark said that other states handle foster care different than Oregon and rely more on local control or the religious communities.

“I think that it is our job as a community to rise up and rally for our children,” Stark said.

Those who are considering being a foster parent can contact the Oregon Department of Human Services at 1-800-331-0503 or go to http://bit.ly/2ql6Z8g. State Rep. Andy Olson also can direct people to the foster care sources at DHS and can be contacted at 503-986-1415 or Rep.AndyOlson@state.or.us.

Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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