The unfolding scandal surrounding the Sunnyside Sprouts daycare center in Southeast Portland should be a reminder for all of us of the importance of government regulation and action when it comes to helping keep children safe. But it is also the story of a communications system that had broken down badly – something our regulatory and licensing agencies cannot always fix but where the courts can sometimes help.
The childcare center was shut down last month after regulators found its owner to be operating without a license, according to radio station KLCC. In addition, “Oregon childcare regulators believed children at Sunnyside Sprouts daycare were being mistreated,” according to the station’s report. What is shocking is the radio station’s finding that parents were never officially told why the daycare was closed, or the fact that it’s owner had been operating in Oregon for years without a license. As a result, “some of the families continued to place their children” in the care of Sunnyside Sprouts’ owner even as the government was in the process of taking her to court.
In the wake of these revelations, KLCC reports, Governor Kate Brown has “called on the state’s Early Learning Division to create a more robust vetting process for childcare providers coming from a different state” (Sunnyside Sprouts’ owner had moved to Oregon after having her child care license suspended in California). The governor also wants regulators “to alert parents if a facility’s legal status ever changes.”
It is a little difficult to understand why this would not have been standard procedure already and it does beg the question: whose rights and well-being do state regulators believe they are charged with protecting in the first instance. ORS 163.545 defines child neglect in some detail. It can be a significant tool for parents who believe the system has not served them well and are hoping to obtain some redress through the courts.
As an Oregon lawyer who has long specialized in civil cases involving injuries to children I am pleased to see that the governor is urging greater action on the part of state authorities. I also, however, want to be sure that parents reading this post are aware of the tools the courts offer them to enforce justice and accountability when the regulatory system either fails or moves too slowly. As I have written about over the last year there have been several daycare center deaths in our state recently. The system should not require that sort of incentive to rethink something as basic as parental notification rules. In the meantime, it is some comfort to know that parents can use the courts to force legal attention to dangerous situations when the regulatory system is too slow to act.
ORS 163.545: Child Neglect in the Second Degree
ORS 124.105: Physical Abuse Subject to Action