Considering the number of shocking stories that Oregon’s child care system has generated over the last few months one would think that reforming the system would be a priority for everyone involved. Yet as a recent report in The Oregonian details, pushback and outright obstruction on the part of the officials who manage the system is widespread and has continued for years.
Citing a new report by state auditors, the newspaper writes: “Officials as high-ranking as Gov. Kate Brown and former agency director Clyde Saiki repeatedly attempted to reform the system and pointed out key steps to do so, only to have agency leaders abandon those plans.” It goes on to quote the report, saying: “For over a decade, management’s response to crisis and scrutiny has been to reorganize the system, not to effectively plan to fix it.”
The auditor’s report reveals particular problems with the foster care system, according to the newspaper. This includes the striking acknowledgement that the Oregon child welfare “agency hasn’t been tracking its successes and failures in recruiting foster parents.”
We can take some solace from the fact that our courts offer a remedy when administrative agencies fail in their duties. It is equally important to understand that families seeking justice are not limited to the decisions made by the police and prosecutors who decide whether or not criminal charges are justified in a particular case. A parent or other relative who feels that they have not received justice in the criminal courts after a child is endangered or injured needs to know that the civil system is also available to them.
Oregon’s child neglect and wrongful death statutes (see links below) offer especially powerful tools for families seeking accountability beyond what the criminal courts can offer. This does not stop with the actual caregivers. It extends to the regulators themselves if it can be shown that they failed to do their jobs properly. For example, looking at The Oregonian’s article on the findings of that audit of the state child welfare system, it can be asked what responsibility the regulators themselves bear for allowing things to get so bad. The newspaper’s report that “the agency doesn’t monitor workers’ caseloads by county or district, so it misses regional staffing and workload disparities” is a prime example of this. With this in mind Section 124 of the Oregon Revised Statutes is particularly relevant. This both sets out the legal definition of a “vulnerable person” and defines in detail the penalties for abusing such a person mentally, physically or financially.
As a Portland attorney with extensive experience handling cases involving injuries to children these are issues I hope parents and others will bear in mind when considering the best way to react to a tragedy, or near-tragedy. It would be good if people did not require prodding or threats to do the right thing. But it is equally good to know that the promise of accountability is there to encourage them to make the right decisions.
Oregon Department of Human Services: Child Abuse & Neglect
ORS 163.545: Child Neglect in the Second Degree
ORS 30.020: Action for Wrongful Death
ORS 124.105: Physical Abuse Subject to Action