Most of my recent blogs on injuries to children have focused on day care centers. A recent article in The Oregonian, that many of the same legal issues apply to older children as well, especially teenagers. These involve both ORS Chapter 124, which covers the abuse of vulnerable people, and a broader set of laws focused on the state’s responsibility to keep the public informed.
The newspaper article focuses on a 14-year-old who arrived in a hospital emergency room with a level of blood alcohol “that would have killed many adults.” The Oregonian reports that “Oregon child protection workers decided not to investigate” this incident, despite being provided with the name of the adult who had supplied the alcohol. The boy later died after being “struck and killed by a pickup truck on US-101 while drinking with friends.”
The paper goes on to note: “Any time a child dies from likely abuse or neglect within a year of child welfare workers being asked to check on the child, the public should be informed. Oregon law requires the state to do a prompt review and disclose what went wrong.”
The state acknowledged that it had failed the boy. “Child protective workers received numerous reports that, in retrospect, showed a ‘theme of neglect’ that the agency failed to act on. A reviewer who read through case files concluded that a call-taker should have passed along the report about (the boy’s) near-death from alcohol poisoning to a case-worker to investigate,” the paper reports. However, it took the state nearly two years to produce this report – hardly the “prompt review” required by Oregon law.
Especially troubling is the off-hand comment that “numerous reports” painted a “theme of neglect” even before the teen arrived in a hospital emergency room suffering from alcohol poisoning. It is worth asking whether the state should have intervened long before the child landed in a hospital with alcohol poisoning.
Essentially, the state let an incident of child abuse and neglect get out of hand and then, after neglect led to a boy’s death, slow-walked its legal responsibility to examine its own conduct. It is good that The Oregonian is bringing all of this to public attention, but it is only doing so because the state has failed in its responsibility both to the young victim and to the public at large.
As a Portland attorney with a practice that has long focused on injuries to children I have spent years helping families use our justice system to enforce accountability. The boy at the center of the newspaper’s story cannot be brought back, but if officials at all levels who failed to do their jobs can be called to explain their actions (or inactions) there is at least a chance that another Oregon family will not have to suffer a similar tragedy.
The Oregonian: Buried: The State hides how Children Die on Oregon’s Watch
ORS Chapter 124 – Abuse of Vulnerable Persons
ORS 163.545: Child Neglect in the Second Degree