Articles Posted in Injuries to Minors

Late last week The Oregonian, citing the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, reported that “a Portland man died and two others were injured when a motorcycle and car collided… in Fairview.” The accident took place late at night on Northeast Halsey Street. According to the paper, a westbound motorcycle carrying both an adult and a child “collided with an eastbound car at Halsey and Seventh streets.”

The motorcycle’s driver was pronounced dead at the scene. His passenger (whose age was not announced) was taken “to a local hospital with serious injuries. The car driver had minor injuries and was also taken to a hospital.”

Many of the details of this incident remain unclear. Notably, the media reports do not say in which lane (eastbound or westbound) took place, making it difficult at this point to speculate about who may have been at fault. Two things, however, are clear. First, the accident serves as a reminder of the special responsibilities adults have when they have children as passengers in motor vehicles, or are responsible for an accident in which a child is killed or injured. Second, this incident highlights some disturbing loopholes in Oregon’s child safety laws when it comes to motorcycles.

A recent news release from the US Department of Transportation lays for groundwork for this year’s Child Passenger Safety Week, which is scheduled to be held nationwide from September 23 to 29. The announcement (see link below) contains links to a variety of materials – everything from broadcast-ready public service spots for TV stations and the web to sample op-eds ready for submission to local newspapers.

Perhaps the most important materials, however, are the practical ones: flyers demonstrating the proper way to install a car seat and its accompanying harness or tether, checklists to help new parents make sure they have carried out every step of the process for securing their child, and posters illustrating the stages at which a child should move from a rear-facing child seat to a front-facing one and from there to a booster seat. One might have thought that after decades of educational campaigns all this would not be necessary. But, as the news release reminds us, car crashes remain a “leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13.”

With that in mind, it is also worth reminding parents and other caregivers that proper child seats are not just a good idea, they are the law. As outlined in ORS 811.210, Oregon law requires all children under the age of two to be “properly secured with a child safety system in a rear-facing position.” Children who are over age two but weigh less than 40 pounds may face forward provided they remain in an appropriate, state and federal-approved, child seat. Anyone weighing more than 40 pounds who is shorter than four feet nine inches must use a booster seat. Failure to comply with any of these laws is a Class D violation, subject to a fine of up to $500.

The scandal surrounding Southeast Portland’s Sunnyside Sprouts daycare center continues to spur efforts to tighten the regulation and oversite of both Oregon childcare centers and the people who work in them.

As I noted in a blog last month, Sunnyside Sprouts was shut down by regulators last May after it emerged that children were being abused there. It was also found to be operating without a license. As the investigation proceeded it emerged that the center’s owner had lost her California childcare license in 2005. When applying for an Oregon license she had acknowledged having worked in childcare in California but lied about her licensing status there. Shockingly, parents were not informed about any of this, even after the state became aware of abuse at Sunnyside Sprouts. Many continued sending their children there after the abuse and licensing issues had been uncovered but before the facility was shut. Governor Kate Brown demanded that state agencies move to address all these issues. According to an article published last week in The Oregonian the first proposals in response to her mandate have now been unveiled.

According to The Oregonian “beginning August 1 the (state) Office of Child Care will contact an out-of-state licensing department any time applicants indicate they provided care elsewhere. State officials have designated a staff person to conduct out-of-state reviews to ensure the license ‘was in good standing.’ If state officials suspect an applicant worked outside Oregon but failed to disclose that information” additional reviews will be conducted. Applicants who indicate that they have worked in child care in another state will also be required to provide their license numbers from that state. Finally, “the Office of Child Care will take steps to ensure parents are better informed about problems at day cares.”

Late last month, as many people were preparing for the holiday week, a story in The Oregonian offered a painful reminder of an issue that arises every summer. The paper reported that a 21-month-old girl in Roseburg died after her mother left her unattended in the back seat of her car for hours. What made the story even more shocking was the mother’s occupation: a nurse, and the car’s location: a medical center parking lot.

The mother later “told police she believed she had dropped her daughter off at day care before arriving at work that morning.” In that respect the case resembles a 2014 incident in Hillsboro that led to the death of a six-month-old baby – and, indeed, dozens of similar cases across the country every year.

As an article published this week at CNN.com noted, “as of July 1, 18 children have already lost their lives this year in hot car death incidents.” The news channel reports that over the last two decades the US has averaged 37 hot car deaths per year with July often proving to be the single deadliest month. That, in turn, raises a deeper question: why has the number of hot car deaths nationwide remained so stubbornly consistent over more than two decades despite widespread public awareness campaigns? A chart on the CNN website (see link below) shows the annual death toll to be remarkably consistent over time. There were a few years (2010, 2005) when it approached 50, and one (2015) when it fell into the low 20s. But, those outliers aside, the figure year-in-year-out is right around that 20-year average of 37 deaths. This is despite the fact that it is an issue nearly everyone who owns a car is aware of, and one about which public information campaigns are conducted every year.

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.”

With Memorial Day and the long summer season approaching this is a good time to revisit some difficult truths about drinking, driving and social responsibility.

The Klamath Falls Herald & News published a useful article recently focused on parental responsibility and teen drinking. The story focused on a demonstration staged at an area high school in the run-up to prom. The simulation portrayed “the devastating immediate effects of a serious accident” involving teenagers and alcohol. Though the focus of the demonstration was on teen responsibility, as the paper noted, a key point went unaddressed, specifically “the responsibility assumed by adults who furnish alcohol to underage drinkers.”

As the paper explains: “Any adults who think they are being good parents by hosting parties with underage drinkers would do well to look at the Oregon laws about such things.” Oregon law allows a parent or guardian to serve alcohol to their own underage child in their own home when they are personally present. That does not extend to hosting party where anyone else’s children will be drinking. The article quotes a warning to parents from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission: “If you allow your property and/or home to be used for a party where minors, other than your minor child(ren), consume alcohol in your presence, you may have to forfeit property and may be issued a criminal citation… The power to provide alcohol to a minor can’t be transferred from a parent to other adults.”

It is getting warmer, which is always a good thing, but the spring also brings dangers – sometimes dangers that may not seem immediately obvious.

I’d like to focus today on water safety, a topic that regular readers will know I have addressed in the past. As a recent article in The Oregonian outlines the temptation to cool off in Oregon and Washington’s rivers at this time of year needs to be accompanied by some simple but important safety precautions.

“Entering cold water can cause swimmers to gasp, inhale water and then go under,” the paper notes. “Currents can keep swimmers from reaching safety.” The key thing to remember is that even on a hot day the water can be very cold. This is something most of us intuitively understand when it comes to the ocean, but which can be easy to forget where rivers are concerned. It is especially important since rivers, with their fast-flowing currents and other obstacles such as rocks and trees, are often even more dangerous than swimming at the beach.

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.

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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