Foster families do some wonderful work in Oregon. But every now and then abusive parents get into the system.
This is the story of a nine-year-old boy, we’ll call him Richard. The state only identifies him as RH.
His story shows the state failed to act on a series of reports that he was being abused by the foster parents who adopted him.
Richard was placed at the home of Alona and Roger Hartwig when he was about five.
They lived outside Eugene and were certified to care for up to five children.
A state investigation found four reports of abuse there, before Richard even arrived. They involved very young kids who were bruised or who were losing weight.
|Sealing the Cracks in Foster Care - We’ll look at the cracks in Oregon’s foster care system that allow cases of abuse to go unchecked.|
Richard moved in during 2005 and for two years there were no reports of trouble.
Then, when he was about seven, there were calls to say he didn’t have enough clothes on for the rainy weather — and that he had to stand for hours as punishment.
The next year, another call said Richard was made to go days without food and that he was being beaten down mentally and maybe physically.
It also said he was the only child in the house being home schooled — an indicator, the state now says, of disparate treatment.
Another report that year said the family had been at a wedding and Richard looked scared to death of his adoptive mother.
Most foster parents provide good, supportive homes for kids. But multiple outside reports identify a system-wide problem.
The same people who recruit and retain foster parents also have to report suspected wrongdoing.
Next year, when he was about nine, someone called to say Richard had weeping sores on his legs — and that Alona Hartwig had gone on vacation instead of taking him to the doctor.
The report also said she told other children in the house not to talk to Richard — and coached them on answering questions from state workers.
It’s important to know that Richard and other children repeatedly denied any abuse.
Then, last year, he spent more than a month in the hospital with a fractured pelvis and a burn that had turned septic from a lack of treatment.
That finally sparked the investigation that led to charges being filed against the Hartwigs.
By law, the state didn’t have to investigate what happened to Richard, because he didn’t die. But the abuse was so bad, authorities decided to find out why it took so long to recognize what was going on.
The investigation revealed several flaws.
For one, case workers should have conducted more interviews. And those interviews should have been done individually and in a neutral location — so the kids would feel free to speak.
The state found that if similar abuse allegations were made nowadays, there would have been more investigation.
The state also found that by 2008 the sheer number of reports should have triggered further inquiry.
Richard still lives in a foster home in Lane County.
Case workers say he is doing well.
Meanwhile, Alona Hartwig pleaded guilty to criminal mistreatment.
She was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Roger Hartwig got five years for second-degree assault. A report on whether the state has made changes as a result of this case, has yet to be published.