A recent article in The Oregonian details a distressingly long list of safety and oversight failures at a single daycare center in Keizer leading to a number of injuries to children.
According to the newspaper the Iris Valley Learning Center “amassed one of the worst safety and health records in Oregon over a decade based on sheer volume of state rule violations… The state Office of Child Care tagged Iris Valley with 102 violations from 2007 through 2016.” This included eight instances of broken bones – “the largest number of fractures at any provider during that period.”
It is important to note that the instances cited by the paper are all forms of neglect – lack of proper supervision of children, inadequate staff numbers, an unsanitary kitchen – rather than abuse per se. This is important because while we often focus attention on physical abuse it needs to be understood that child neglect is also a serious offense under Oregon law. Second Degree Child Neglect is a Class A Misdemeanor. As defined in ORS 163.545 it includes any action that results in leaving “the child unattended in or at any place for such period of time as may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child.” (First Degree Child Neglect – ORS 163.547 – is a felony but is much more narrowly defined and mainly concerns drug offenses that take place in close proximity to children).
The events detailed in The Oregonian’s article would clearly seem to meet this standard, and yet the newspaper reports that “until lurching into action this spring, Oregon’s child care office allowed the center to keep serving young children. The only consequence for a mountain of violations in the past decade: a total of $325 in fines.”
This and similar cases are potentially areas in which our civil courts may be able to offer some assistance to shocked parents. In addition to the child neglect statutes mentioned above, the activities at the clinic may also meet the definition for Abuse of a Vulnerable Person in civil law, as outlined in ORS Chapter 124.
Such apparently clear violations of both the child neglect laws and ORS 124 at least arguably create liability on behalf of both teachers and administrators if they failed to report the shortcomings. State and local officials may also be responsible if they failed to act on such warnings, or to investigate reports that might reasonably lead them to suspect that inappropriate or unsafe conduct was taking place at Iris Valley or similar facilities.
As a Portland attorney with extensive experience helping the families of injured children this seems to me to be a clear example of a situation where civil courts can enforce both official and personal accountability even when regulatory bodies can’t or won’t do so. The state lays out very thorough and sensible standards for the reporting of abuse and neglect (see link below). Our courts offer both a way to enforce those laws and regulations and to hold both caretakers and officials to account when they fail to do so.
The Oregonian: Oregon kids at ‘elevated risk’ of harm inside daycares
Oregon Department of Human Services: Child Abuse & Neglect