Oregonian Article re Oregon Adoption Assistance Lawsuit

July 30, 2008

An Overdue Settlement – The State Rightfully Agrees to Pay $ 1.7 Million to Families of Former Foster Children

The Oregonian  —

In February 2003, during the darkest days of Oregon’s budget crisis, forced school closures got the state some negative national publicity in the comic strip “Doonesbury.”

That same month, however, schoolchildren weren’t the only Oregon kids harmed by slashed state spending. Children adopted out of state foster care were hurt, too, in a shameful way that received much less attention at the time. The same week the “Doonesbury” strips began appearing, the state wrongfully imposed a 7.5 percent reduction in benefits to thousands of adoptive families, and it denied them individual hearings to appeal. These were payments that had been promised to parents under a program created in 1980 to help encourage the adoption of kids with costly special needs, such as counseling for physical abuse, attachment disorders and the effects of prenatal drug and alcohol exposure.

Oregon had made a commitment to these parents, and reneging was unconscionable. They shouldn’t have had to go to court and fight to make the state honor its word.

Fortunately, though, this dismal episode appears to be coming to a satisfactory end. The Oregon attorney general’s office has agreed to pay $1.7 million to the families of more than 6,600 former foster children in a settlement that received preliminary approval by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene this week.

The settlement, subject to a final hearing Sept. 24, is painfully overdue. It results from a class action lawsuit filed in 2003 by four Oregon parents who, like thousands of others, had received written agreements from the state setting their adoption subsidies based on the specific needs of each child.

The parents lost the first round in U.S. District Court but scored big-time on appeal. In 2005, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco agreed that the families had a right to the agreed-upon payments as well as individual hearings under the Federal Adoption Assistance Act of 1980.

“There is no ambiguity as to what Oregon was required to do,” the judges wrote, making it clear that the payments and hearings are conditions of the federal funding that states receive to subsidize adoptions.

Oregon stubbornly appealed that sensible ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mercifully, the high court declined to hear the case, and that cleared the way for a settlement.

Lawyers for the parents won’t share in the $1.7 million settlement. Because the case was a civil rights action, Judge Aiken can and should order the state to pay a reasonable attorney fee.