Oregon Chooses Former Foster Youth to Lead Its Child Welfare System

Rebecca Jones Gaston, new head of Oregon’s child welfare agency. Photo: National Association of Counties

Rebecca Jones Gaston, a former foster youth and social worker who oversees the social services department in Maryland, is set to lead Oregon’s child welfare program, state officials have announced.

“Rebecca has extensive experience in child welfare systems across the country and, as part of that work, she has encountered many of the same challenges we face in Oregon,” said Fariborz Pakseresht, director of Oregon’s Department of Health Services, in a statement. “I am so pleased she is coming on board, and I am confident she is the right person to continue to transform our child welfare system into one focused on prevention, safety and improving outcomes for children and families.”

In Oregon, she will lead over a program that has been criticized in audits and legislative hearings for failing to adequately care for some of Oregon’s most vulnerable children, according to published reports. The child welfare program has been run by four directors since 2016. The state is the target of a class-action lawsuit over its treatment of kids with complex needs and was caught sending children to facilities in other states with little oversight, according to published reports

Gaston was born in Minnesota, and was adopted from the state’s foster care system. As the executive director of the Social Services Administration at the Maryland Department of Human Services, Jones Gaston implemented new programs to help the department better support vulnerable populations, increased the capacity of the workforce to use data in decision making, and reduced the number of out of state placements of youth in foster care from 68 to 18 youth in less than four years, according Oregon officials.

Before heading the Maryland agency, Jones Gaston spent 22 years as a social worker and was a director with Casey Family Programs, providing technical assistance to child welfare agencies throughout the United States. She also served as national campaign director for AdoptUsKids, a campaign aimed at increasing the numbers of foster and adoptive families, according to a statement by Oregon officials.

Jones Gaston said her first goal will be to lead the implementation of the many changes already under way in Oregon and “to build a child welfare system that best serves our most vulnerable children and families,” she said in a statement.

“Everything that we do absolutely impacts children and families on a day-to-day basis, and we need to keep that in mind, because it is life-impacting,” Jones Gaston said in an interview with the Malheur Enterprise. “And it is our responsibility to make sure that we are moving forward thoughtfully, but also, really intentionally paying attention to the need for change to happen in ways that don’t drag on and on and on, or this change of personnel having an impact on being able to have outcomes improve.”

Gaston succeeds Marilyn Jones, who resigned abruptly over the summer, just a few months after the class-action lawsuit was filed. Her appointment in Oregon will begin on Nov. 4.

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Susan Abram
About Susan Abram 22 Articles
Susan Abram is a freelance writer who previously covered public health and L.A. County government for the Los Angeles Daily News. You can find her on Twitter at @SAbramLA.