Oregon is paying millions to an unlicensed Christian ministry to care for foster kids
The state gave the ministry up to $2,916 per kid, per day, despite being unlicensed and unregulated
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UPDATE (12/5/23): A source tells me that Oregon will be “terminating its contracts” with the unlicensed Christian ministry, Dynamic Life PNW, after a story by reporter Lauren Dake revealed just how absurd that partnership was. The state says it is working “deliberately and quickly” to create transition plans for all children currently under the care of the Christian group.
My earlier commentary on Dake’s story is below.
A damning report from Oregon Public Broadcasting finds that state officials have been paying a Christian non-profit group massive amounts of money to house foster children with little to no regulation.
This isn’t a new problem. Oregon has been struggling for years to care for these vulnerable kids, spending millions of dollars to put hundreds of kids in hotel rooms “with a rotating cast of caregivers” and just sending kids to out-of-state facilities that were rife with abuse.
None of that helps kids find a permanent home.
None of that is ideal for their mental health.
None of that makes them feel loved and wanted.
And now, thanks to reporter Lauren Dake, we know just how worse the situation is getting: State officials are now outsourcing care to a Christian group called Dynamic Life Inc., which puts kids in short-term rental homes (like Airbnbs). For that “care,” the non-profit ministry receives “100 times the amount [the state pays] foster care parents.”
In October 2022, Oregon child welfare officials signed a contract with Dynamic Life, noting they could be paid up to $2,916 per day, for every child or teenager the state places in their care. Compare that to the amount the state’s child welfare system pays a foster parent to care for a teenager — which is $795 per month. If a child is determined to have high needs, a foster parent is usually paid slightly more, an additional $240 to $468 per month, still significantly less than what Dynamic Life receives.
In the last 12 months, the state of Oregon has paid the religious nonprofit more than $7.75 million to provide support services to about 40 kids at risk of temporary lodging and to those already in temporary lodging, such as a hotel or short-term rental.
It’s not unusual for a Christian non-profit to receiving taxpayer dollars to perform secular services, but those groups are supposed to play by the government’s rules and have an appropriate level of oversight. That’s not what’s happening here. If anything, it’s so much worse because the ministry is just sucking up money that ought to be used to help those kids in other ways. It’s almost impossible to overstate how much more the kids would benefit if that money went to certified foster parents instead of this ministry.
We know that because this ministry isn’t held to the same kinds of standards as those parents.
In normal situations, state officials and attorneys always have access to the foster kids. They don’t with this ministry.
Employees at licensed child-care agencies have training when it comes to not hurting kids if they’re acting out. Employees with this ministry don’t.
Licensed agencies run background checks on potential employees. There’s no telling who this ministry is hiring—and, in fact, “dozens” of staffers at the ministry have not gone through the proper background checks.
“Providers who can’t comply with state licensing rules are not qualified to be providers,” [State Sen. Sara] Gelser Blouin said. “The use of unlicensed and uncertified services for kids in care is a tragedy waiting to happen.”
“If you have a child who is a legal ward of the state of Oregon and they are placing their own ward—who they have a duty to protect—in a group home that is unlicensed and unregulated. I don’t know how that can be OK?” said Jenna App, the state director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates, an organization that trains volunteers to look out for kids in foster care. “Can you imagine putting your own child in a home like that?”
Dake points out that Nathan Webber, the guy who founded the ministry, is a fan of Tucker Carlson and Pat Robertson. He’s also anti-trans, which raises questions about how the ministry handles LGBTQ children. Meanwhile, Ned Clements, the current president, hires people as young as 18 who are willing to “work at least 72 consecutive hours a week.”
It’s no wonder that the staff’s credentials leave plenty to be desired:
One of Dynamic Life’s employees charged with helping kids with their mental health says he’s “Christ’s psychologist in training” on his social media page. Another staff member of Dynamic Life, Webber’s son, who went with him to the hotel in Lincoln City, is currently facing numerous misdemeanor charges related to harassment and menacing of his own young children. Court documents allege that he placed his children in “fear of imminent serious physical injury.”
People like that shouldn’t be around children, period, much less the most vulnerable children.
And we haven’t even mentioned the strictness and religious bigotry: One child said she was only allowed to speak to her best friend a total of ten minutes a week. When that 15-year-old told Webber she was non-binary, he responded with, “And I identify as an attack helicopter.”
The reason Oregon child welfare officials approved spending over $2,000 per child per day was to “prevent and reduce the risk of temporary lodging.” But by giving that money to an unlicensed Christian ministry with uncredentialed staffers, they’re making a serious problem even worse. In the case of that 15-year-old, even when a real foster parent stepped up to take her in, the ministry kept her in place by having a staffer become “certified as a foster mom,” allowing them to say the kid already lived in a foster home. In other words, the ministry functions as a prison.
The state claims it’s now conducting an internal review of Dynamic Life, which is great, but why the hell didn’t that happen sooner? The ministry now has lobbyists and appears to be expanding its footprint in Oregon by buying up more property. The problem got this far because state officials were less concerned about the welfare of children and more concerned with throwing money at any potential solution without first doing their due diligence. Whether it’s the Catholic Church or Christian boarding schools, whenever a religious institution claims to take care of children, people should always fear the worst.
It shouldn’t have taken an investigative journalist to get the state of Oregon to realize its mistakes. Too many kids’ lives are at stake.