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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Lawmakers, Providers Watch As Oregon DHS Prepares To Update Foster Care Rules

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network
The Oregon Department of Human Services will introduce new rules for foster care providers in Oregon by July 1.

A bill that makes sweeping changes to Oregon's oversight of foster care providers takes effect next month. The reforms were proposed after numerous media reports of abuse and neglect at several foster care providers.

The new rules will be specific. For example, Democratic state Sen. Sara Gelser, who championed the measure, wants to make sure that girls in foster care have access to feminine hygiene products. She said teens at a now-closed foster care provider in Portland once had to shoplift tampons when none were provided for them.

Gelser said state officials couldn't force the caregiver to provide the tampons since it wasn't written into the rules.

"I anticipate the response today would be different, even without the rules,” Gelser said. “But we have to look forward beyond this time when there's this much attention, that we're creating something that's lasting."

The new rules will also require the agency to conduct more frequent inspections of foster care providers and strengthens the agency's ability to suspend the license of caregivers found to be violating state standards.

The Oregon Department of Human Services Wednesday heard from stakeholders as agency officials prepare rules to implement the new law. Some foster care advocates testified in support of the rule-making process at Wednesday's meeting.

Lisa McMahon of Oregon Foster Youth Connection said the new rules are about more than just improving the current living conditions of foster youth.

"When they're 24, they'll be young adults who don't think they deserve anything if we don't teach them that at age 13," McMahon said.

Senate Bill 1515 was approved in March without opposition in the legislature. Democratic Governor Kate Brown signed the 37-page measure into law on April 4. It came after numerous media reports of abuse and neglect at several foster care providers.

The agency said it will have the new rules ready by July 1.