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.
Clearly this case raises a number of significant legal issues, including but not limited to child abuse, child endangerment, wrongful death and negligence. Obviously the first focus has to be on the caregivers and the owners of the day care facility. Yet as this case unfolds it will also be critical to examine the actions, or lack thereof, of local and state officials.
As the Oregon Department of Human Services outlines on its website (see link below), numerous people who would have been involved with this day care facility have a state-mandated responsibility to report neglectful, abusive or dangerous behavior or conditions in (among a long list of other places) child care facilities. This means, for example, that government officials who were aware of problems but did nothing to report them may bear a degree of legal responsibility for this tragedy – and it is important to note that “awareness” in this instance is not confined to one’s professional duties. A state or local official who in their personal capacity – i.e. as a parent or friend, rather than as a public official – knew, or should have known, about the conditions leading to this death has just as much of a legal responsibility to report the situation as, for example, a caregiver at the facility itself.
As a Portland lawyer who works regularly on cases involving neglect and abuse I will be watching this case closely in the weeks and months to come. Even before the medical reports come back from the state laboratories it is important that serious questions be asked about how something like this could happen in the first place and whether the state and local officials charged with regulating and inspecting day care centers are doing their jobs properly. According to The Oregonian “eight children have died at licensed day care centers (in Oregon) since 2007.” That the Portland area has now suffered two such deaths in just over a month is simply unacceptable.
Oregon Department of Human Services: Child Abuse & Neglect
ORS 163.545: Child Neglect in the Second Degree
ORS 30.020: Action for Wrongful Death