Volunteers needed on Malheur County’s foster care panel

VALE – The Citizen Review Board, essential to Malheur County’s foster care program, needs volunteers to help provide oversight on how well the state tends to foster children.

Data put out by the state Department of Human Services shows that the number of foster children in the county is trending upward, placing strain on the review board’s modest number of members.

Board volunteers, who receive 16 hours of training, have the power to coax the state to move quicker on a case involving a child, and they can bring it to attention when the state fails to follow the law, court orders, or state policy.

John Nichols, state field manager for the review board, said that the board, which currently stands at four volunteers, is functional, but he is seeking more volunteers to lighten the load.

There are many steps to complete before being appointed to the local Citizen Review Board, however, the best way to get started is to reach out to Nichols by calling him at 541-233-8142.

It is also possible to get started online by submitting an application through the Citizen Review Board’s website, which also provides a breakdown of the step-by-step process.

 “We can have up to seven. It’d be nice to have a couple more volunteers, so that when folks are ill or have other kinds of issues… to have that fallback when other folks can step in,” Nichols said. “So, that’s what I really need in Malheur is just to beef it up to six or seven volunteers.”

Nichols said that in 2018 the citizen board conducted 111 reviews in Malheur County, reviewing 145 children in total, and that so far this year’s rate is about the same as last year’s.

He said that last year, the board, which typically meets once a month, had to hold 17 sessions to accommodate an overflow of cases.

Nichols said the review of each case takes around 30 to 45 minutes, and that the board averages eight to 10 cases per month.

“That takes up a pretty full day, and that can be pretty tough on volunteers and so it requires a lot of reading of all the case plans, of all the information about the family, and so that takes several days for them to get prepared for the reviews” he said. “Having that spread out a little bit more would be really helpful.”

Compounding the issue is the fact that between 2016-2018 the victim rate, or the rate at which children are victims of abuse, in Malheur County gradually spiked by about eight victims per 1,000 children, an increase of 64 children in two years, according to the 2018 Child Welfare Data Book prepared by the DHS.

The data for the whole state shows that during the same period, the victim rate was at around 13 victims per 1,000 children in 2016 and 2017 before increasing to around 14 in 2018.

In 2018, there were 864 child abuse reports in Malheur County, the majority reported from schools, the data showed.

The next orientation training for new board members will take place from Aug. 28-29 in Hermiston.

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