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State's Efforts To Keep Kids Out Of Foster Care Yielding Results


Trista Blang is a blonde 25-year-old with a one-year-old daughter.

“I started drinking and using drugs at 13, 14 years old. It progressively got worse. I experimented with almost everything. Was homeless, couch surfing,” Blang said.

Her most recent drug of choice was meth, which she used until she was two months pregnant.

Trista Blang

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

“Finding out I was pregnant was really my bottom. I really didn’t want to do it anymore. And I didn’t want to bring a child into the life that I was living,” she said.

She went to rehab then moved into the Letty Owings Center, for families in recovery. To stay with her child she has to meet certain requirements, like submitting to random drug tests.

“I do have to stay clean and sober and engage in treatment and also have a self-sufficiency plan,” she explained.

Her plan is to get a GED then become a medical assistant. So far she’s sticking to it, largely she says, because living without her daughter would be unthinkable.

“I know that if she was not born clean and sober, I would have had to had some consequences, which would have been going to treatment or having my daughter taken by the state,” Blang said.

The state is spending about $10,000 a year to help Blang turn her life around. It’s expensive. But, it’s substantially less than putting her daughter in foster care. That would be $30 thousand-a-year.

And the chances that her child would do well in foster care are not good.

A national study by the University of Washington shows girls in foster care have an 80 percent chance of becoming pregnant by age 23 and a 70 percent chance of ending up on food stamps. The statistics are bleak. And Oregon has twice as many kids in foster care as the national average. But that’s why the Department of Human Services is trying to keep kids with their families.

Rachel Post helps run the treatment home where Blang is living. She says children give their mothers an incentive to get off drugs. But not everyone makes it.

“If a family member is engaged in illegal activities or in activities that their parole or probation officer has deemed inappropriate, we must report that to the state,” Post said.

She says about 80 percent of the people who come through the center complete the program. 17 percent relapse.

Patty Finch relapsed after treatment in a different program and had to give up her daughter.

“I only went in because I knew that she would be with me and I loved her and missed her dearly. But at that same time, my disease had a grip on me. And that unfortunately was stronger at that time than wanting to be a mother,” Finch said.

But that was 11 years ago. Finch has been clean and sober since then and just bought a house.

“It’s like a dream come true… I’m a single mom and I’ve got my daughter and my son living with me there now,” she said.

The state has reduced the number of children going into foster care in the last five years by about 1000 children a year. That reflects success on a number of fronts, including drug treatment. However, some issues —- like domestic violence — present a whole different set of challenges.

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