The Oregon Department of Human Services is clarifying a proposed rule change around child abuse investigations after the agency received blowback.

Despite previous statements to the contrary, state agency officials said they are not trying to narrow the type of abuse records that can be accessed by the public.

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“Unfortunately, our previous statements and communication about this proposed rule change were inaccurate,” ODHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht said. “This caused confusion about our intentions and many have expressed concern during the public comment period for this proposed rule change. We apologize for the confusion our previous communications have caused and we want to make certain that everyone understands this proposed rule change and why we have proposed.”

The Oregon Department of Human Services in Salem. The Oregon Law Center is suing DHS over its "temporary emergency lodging" program.

The Oregon Department of Human Services in Salem. The Oregon Law Center is suing DHS over its "temporary emergency lodging" program.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

The agency said instead of trying to narrow the type of abuse records for children who are harmed outside the home, they are merely codifying current practice, which is to not release child abuse investigations that are in progress.

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“The proposed rule does not change current ODHS practice,” a press release from the agency read.

The agency said on Wednesday its intent is to clarify the rule to ensure there is no loss of federal funding since officials feel the current rule lacks clarity.

State Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, who has become a watchdog of DHS and helped reveal systemic child abuse, said she appreciates the agency’s clarification of its intent. However, she said she’s looking forward to the language of the proposed rule change affirming its purpose.

“I look forward to seeing a corrected version of the rule that affirms that once completed, appropriately redacted … abuse investigation reports related to children in care are public records that will be released upon request,” Gelser Blouin said.

DHS’ original language around the rule change implied the agency was narrowing the type of abuse records that could be requested when children were placed in care outside of a home were abused. The initial understanding was the rule change would allow agency leaders to largely deny most public records requests, blocking details even if the investigation was completed.

In 2018, public records helped uncover widespread abuse in facilities where Oregon was sending foster youth to live.

Gelser Blouin said the agency has worked hard in the past two years to improve its transparency efforts.

“I’m relieved the proposed rule will be amended in a way that is consistent with that record,” she said.

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