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.”
If fully implemented these procedures might have stopped the abuse at Sunnyside Sprouts. The crucial change is the plan to verify the details that applicants provide. Previously the state simply took applicants at their word. The woman who ran Sunnyside Sprouts acknowledged having worked in childcare in California but claimed, falsely, not to have been sanctioned there.
All of this is a good start but it leaves an obvious loophole open: what happens if an applicant who lost his or her license in another state simply lies, telling Oregon officials that they have never worked in childcare before? It is laudable for Oregon to say it will make further enquiries if state officials suspect someone is lying, but that does little to help catch people who are clever about covering their tracks.
As a Portland lawyer whose practice has long focused on helping families obtain justice following injuries to children I applaud the progress this initiative represents. But I am also disturbed that it does not go further. In our technology-driven age it should not be especially difficult to check someone’s licensing status for something as critical as taking care of children. Banks, landlords and insurance companies seem to have little trouble turning up troublesome information from a person’s past. One would think that state licensing agencies would be able to devise an efficient way to share the information they hold with their counterparts in other state governments. Oregon has made a good start, but more needs to be done if we are to ensure that abuse like that at Sunnyside Sprouts never happens again.
Oregon Department of Human Services: Child Abuse & Neglect
ORS 163.545: Child Neglect in the Second Degree
ORS 124.105: Physical Abuse Subject to Action