Wednesday, March 20, 2019

From Oregon’s Senator Soundbite: Tweets full of statistics abuse about Oregon foster care

It seems Oregon State Sen. Sara Gelser, who’s done so much to make Oregon’s bad child welfare system even worse, didn’t like being called out about it on this blog yesterday.  But even if every statistic she cites in a series of tweets this afternoon is accurate, they show only that Oregon’s rate of child removal has declined from horrendous to merely egregious.

Gelser’s tweets about entries into foster care offer pretty pictures – but no actual sources for the data.  So, for example, there is no way to be sure that the data conform fully to requirements of the federal database to which states have to report entries into care.  Also, Gelser compares entries only to total child population.  A fairer comparison compares entries to the number of impoverished children in each state.  (Oregon does badly either way – but even worse when you factor in poverty.)

The most recent data released by the federal government show that when poverty is factored in, Oregon tore apart families at a rate more than 40 percent above the national average in the year ending Sept. 30, 2017.  I did a back-of-the-envelope extrapolation from the extremely limited data Gelser provides, an extrapolation that gives Oregon’s Department of Human Services the benefit of the doubt. I found that, even if Gelser’s figures are correct, Oregon is still tearing apart families at a rate roughly 25 percent above the national average. (Anyone who wants to know the basis for the estimate is welcome to email me.)

When compared to total child population, Oregon was “only” about 12 percent above the national average in 2017 – so you can see why Gelser doesn’t want to use the more valid comparison that factors in poverty. Gelser then claims that in calendar year 2018 this version of the rate of removal declined to “only” eight percent above the national average (actually it’s probably more like nine percent).

But this isn’t the only way Gelser was selective in the figures she presented. She neglects to mention that a large part of the 2018 decline simply reversed significant increases in 2015, 2016, and 2017 – when Gelser herself was demanding ever more coercive intervention into families and confusing child removal with child safety.  (These data can be found by following this link and scrolling to the bottom of the page.) So now, apparently, Gelser wants to take credit for starting to solve a problem she did so much to worsen in the first place.

Disingenuous use of data on abuse in foster care

In a post to this blog last November, and elsewhere, I explained why the one sure way to know someone in child welfare is being disingenuous is if they try to get you to believe that official figures concerning the rate of abuse in foster care bear any resemblance to reality.  Study after study after study shows that they don’t.  And that should come as no surprise, because the official figures involve agencies investigating themselves.

So guess what Gelser uses to claim that abuse in Oregon foster care has declined: Just what you’d expect.

And finally there is the item discussed in yesterday’s post to which Gelser has offered no response: Why did she press full-speed ahead with her successful effort to kill differential response even after independent evaluators found that it was safe?

Still, the news isn’t all bad.  The first step toward solving a problem is admitting you have one.  And Gelser now admits that Oregon’s rate of removal is “still too high.”  If only she’d own up to her own role in keeping it too high.