State Rep. Chip Shields will likely gain a plum assignment as chair of the Human Services Subcommittee of Ways and Means. And that, he says, could bring benefits to his north and northeast Portland district.
Shields hopes to use his knowledge of health care and human services to keep kids and adults from winding up in institutions like the Oregon Department of Corrections and the Oregon Youth Authority.
The Democrat has been busy mastering human services issues at the same time the state faces an economic downturn and corresponding $1 billion hole in the state budget.
One of his commitments is to improve foster care.
He and his wife, Shelda Holmes, recently became foster parents themselves. The couple hosted a roundtable last month at Widmer Gasthaus for local foster parents.
“All too often we forget that the foster home is really where children can be helped, not just housed,” said Shields. “We can do a much better job for kids by making every foster home one full of healing foster parents who are well trained and well supported.”
The challenge is clear: between 25 and 41 percent of former foster youths spend time in prison, Shields says. One study found that the arrest rate is 67 percent higher for youths previously in the child welfare system than for those never in that system.
Shields knows that failing to invest in kids on the front end means spending much more on prisons on the back end.
In 1998, he founded Better People, a nonprofit now located at 4310 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., which helps former offenders break the cycle of crime with a mix of behavioral therapy, job placement and job retention services.
“Better People has shown that there are solutions to the problem of repeat offenders,” Shields says, “We should invest in people, especially children, instead of prisons. That’s the mindset I would bring to the Human Services Subcommittee of Ways & Means.”
Shields completed his Master of Social Work degree at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Institution and the Volunteers of America Men’s Residential Center, a north and northeast Portland inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center.
At VOA, Shields learned about addiction treatment under the wing of Al Forthan, a long-time fixture in the African-American recovery community who passed away in 2006. Shields has been involved in VOA’s effort to provide college scholarships to Jefferson High School students in Forthan’s name.
Shields recently met with Greg Stone of VOA and other experts in drug treatment to help chart out the most effective way to respond to treatment provisions in Ballot Measure 57, the new sentencing measure passed by voters Nov. 4.
Shields also sees the health care crisis in all its complexity at Hands on Medicine, 5311 N. Vancouver, which his wife founded in 2007. He’s the business manager of the clinic, which offers well-child checks, immunizations, chronic disease management, physicals, women’s health, family planning, and help with everyday injuries and illnesses.
“There are simply too many kids that don’t have any insurance, and too many of their parents are uninsured too,” he said.
Despite the economic challenges and slumping revenue, Shields is optimistic that there will be advances in health care and health care coverage through a fee on hospital providers and insurance companies.
“As Democrats, we are committed to solving the health care crisis, and with President-elect Obama at the helm and a strong majority in the Oregon House, we will make strides this session,” said Shields.