Articles Posted in Injuries to Minors

An article published just before the weekend in The Oregonian outlined a new effort to change the way the state handles juvenile jails in general and mental illness among juvenile detainees in particular. “Nearly a dozen organizations, including the ACLU of Oregon, as well as groups that advocate for people with mental illness and juveniles, asked Gov. Kate Brown for ‘support in reducing Oregon’s reliance on youth incarceration’ and ensuring better conditions for juveniles in custody,” the paper reports.

According to The Oregonian the initiative was “prompted by Disability Rights Oregon’s blistering critique of the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility, known as Norcor, in The Dalles. The organization… found that juveniles were locked in their cells for hours at a time and punished ‘for looking around.’”

This new focus on the juvenile detention system follows equally sharp criticisms of Oregon’s child welfare system, something I wrote about at length last month. Taken together they paint a picture of state institutions ill-equipped to protect children who end up in the care of the government. The conditions described in The Oregonian’s account of the juvenile justice system are particularly shocking. The coalition report on Norcor in particular portrays it as an institution using “outdated policies designed to ‘break the will at any cost.’” This way of thinking, it adds, is “out of step with the latest research and practices on juvenile incarceration.”

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.”

In the wake of two Oregon day care deaths in as many months late last year one might have thought that it would be a simple thing to build momentum in the legislature for reform and increased oversight, but in politics things are rarely that simple.

Earlier this month The Oregonian reported that Governor Kate Brown’s initiative to “beef up oversight of day cares” was receiving a “tepid response” in Salem. The paper reports that “the proposal would increase maximum fines for rule-breaking day cares while closing a licensing loophole that can allow bad providers to escape consequences.” At an Oregon House hearing, however, “committee members questioned if the state’s bid to create 14 new positions would actually move the needle and help ensure kids are safe.”

When the legislature does not move as quickly as it should, it is worth remembering that even without changes to current law our courts offer powerful tools for protecting children and enforcing accountability. For example, ORS 163.545 is a relatively short statute defining second-degree child neglect. This is criminal law but when it is invoked it also opens the legal door to civil actions.

The holidays are here. This is always a busy time of year, with parties, shopping and the numerous obligations we all have to friends and family. At such a hectic time it is especially important to keep safety – particularly child safety – in mind.

Regular readers will know that I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of SafeKids and the work it does here in Oregon and around the world. The organization has published a very useful guide to holiday safety (see link below), and I urge everyone to take a few minutes to look at it.

Few of the items on the SafeKids list are unique to the holiday season. The list focuses on things like ensuring that smaller children are in proper infant or booster seats and bigger kids are wearing their seat belts, remaining vigilant at all times when behind the wheel and, at home, placing hot foods on the stovetop’s rear burners to prevent spills caused by children reaching out.

For the second time in as many months an infant has died in an Oregon day care facility. More shockingly, this latest tragedy took place “at a Southwest Portland day care previously cited three times for illegally watching children without a license,” The Oregonian reports.

As I detailed in a blog post last month, the earlier death took place in Portland and involved a 10-month-old boy. In that instance, it was the second infant death in the facility in as many years. The incident led state authorities to close the day care center, but left significant questions unanswered. Notably: how had the facility remained open after the first death?

In this instance many of the same questions need to be asked, perhaps even more urgently. The victim at the Southwest Portland facility was not-quite five months old. The Oregonian reports that “police are awaiting results of an autopsy and toxicology report, which could take several months” but the more immediate question is how a care facility with three pervious citations for operating illegally could still be in business in the first place. According to the newspaper, all three of the citations for illegal operation were issued in the last 10 months.

The death of a 13-year-old girl last week in southern Oregon’s Jackson County should prompt a broader discussion about how we keep children safe as they wait for school buses, especially in rural areas.

As detailed by The Oregonian, the girl was waiting for the school bus at the end of her family’s driveway “on a rural Jackson County road… when she was struck by a passing vehicle, something attached to it or the vehicle’s load.” A search is on for the driver, whom police say may not have even been aware of having struck the child. The fact that so many questions remain unanswered about how the girl was hit, and even at a more basic level what hit her, indicates that law enforcement and school officials still have much work to do. But those essential tasks should not cause police, school officials and the wider community to miss addressing another critical question raised by this child’s death: was standing at the end of her driveway a safe and well-thought-out way for her to be waiting for a ride to school?

In an era of near-constant educational cutbacks we should start by asking whether it was really necessary to have a lone girl standing where her family’s driveway met the road? Was this the only way for the bus to pick her up, or was it just the most efficient way to plan the bus driver’s route? When those bus routes were planned how much thought was given to student safety? As winter approaches and the days continue to get shorter this is a particularly pressing question. According to The Oregonian last week’s fatal accident took place before 7:30 am (the time at which the child’s body was discovered by a passer-by). Over the next four months it will not be unusual for children to be waiting for their school buses in the dark or in half-light and for them to be walking home from their bus stops in the afternoon dusk. Such considerations need to be at the forefront of route planning, and cannot merely be an afterthought.

The Oregonian reports that state officials are moving to close the a Portland day care center after a child died at the facility. What makes this incident particularly distressing is the news that this is the second Oregon child death at the center in 18 months.

The newspaper reports that police have not disclosed the circumstances of the fatality, and that the medical examiner is still conducting an investigation. The paper adds, however, that “state regulators immediately suspended all childcare at the facility… concluding that circumstances there presented ‘a serious danger.’”

The paper notes that “Oregon has recorded eight deaths at licensed day cares since 2007, according to the Office of Child Care. With more than 4000 facilities in the state, there have never been two deaths at the same location, the child care office said.” The newspaper quotes an official from the office describing the situation as “unprecedented.”

The sad case of a 10-year-old Klamath Falls girl and the severe injuries she suffered when attacked by four dogs has brought the complex legal questions surrounding Oregon dog attacks back onto the public agenda.

As reported by area newspapers the East Oregonian and the Herald and News the June attack left the girl with “a torn scalp, punctured lung and broken ribs” and required several weeks of in-patient treatment at a Portland hospital. A ‘GoFundMe’ page set up by friends and neighbors to help the family deal with medical expenses quickly raised over $15,000, according to the Herald and News.

Meanwhile, according to the East Oregonian, legal proceedings concerning the dogs moved ahead. Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that the Klamath County Commission “voted unanimously… that it was in the public interest to euthanize the animals.” The paper reported that the commission, after investigating the attack, determined that the owner of the dogs, all English mastiffs, had the “inclination but not the ability” to keep the animals under proper control. It rejected an offer on the owner’s part to move the dogs to a different part of the state.

A groundbreaking study published last week by the New York Times has reverberated through the sports world. “A neuropathologist has examined the brains of 111 NFL players – and 110 were found to have CTE, the degenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head,” the paper writes.

A few days later, National Public Radio reported that the NFL was ending a $30 million research partnership with the National Institutes of Health. Citing original reporting by ESPN, NPR said that after almost five years nearly half of the funds the league committed to the study of brain injuries remained unspent “following a bitter dispute in 2015 in which the NFL backed out of a major study that had been awarded to a researcher who had been critical of the League.”

It goes without saying that youth and high school sports are a far cry from the NFL, but with these two stories in the news it is worth revisiting the issue of youth sports and TBI for two reasons. First, anyone playing in the NFL only got there after years of youth, high school and college football. It has long been established that head injuries have a cumulative effect, so it is incumbent on all of us to ask what can be done to minimize these injuries long before young people get to the professional level. Second, and more importantly, whatever one may think of the NFL’s approach and attitude toward concussion issues, professional football players enter each game with the best equipment possible – including helmets built to standards far more exacting than anything a middle or high school student wears onto the field. That, in turn, requires us to look carefully at both the practices and the laws governing youth contact sports to see whether we are doing everything we can to prevent injuries to children.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month on a boy who died “after falling off a parade float on his seventh birthday.” The tragic event took place during the Miner’s Jubilee Parade in Baker City. The news agency says the boy “was struck by the rear wheels of a commercial vehicle” after falling from the float.

According to AP the authorities in Baker City are treating the event as an accident. But even if this tragedy was an accident that does not mean that no person or organization bears responsibility for what happened. Indeed, when a child is killed or injured all of us have a special obligation to investigate the circumstances to the fullest possible extent.

From a legal standpoint, this means looking at questions of health and safety in much the same way we might consider any other question of negligence leading to an injury or death. Special attention needs to be paid both to the organization of the parade and to the construction and operation of the float on which the child was riding.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
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