County relaunches Child Fatality Review Team
Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier and the Amani Center re-launched the county's Child Fatality Review Team on Tuesday, March 19.
The CFRT launched with a backlog of cases. There are at least four child fatalities awaiting review, but the team may first review other cases its members believe could provide lessons.
"We're looking at really going beyond our statutory obligations," Auxier said.
The goal of the team is to identify factors that led to a child's death and make recommendations to the county on ways to prevent future child fatalities.
"I hope that we'll see a decrease in child fatality reviews, but I know one thing that we're doing by engaging in this process in a more meaningful manner is we're honoring that child," Auxier said at the team's first meeting Tuesday. "We're really sitting around a table, looking each other in the eye, and doing everything we can to make sure that a
child doesn't die in that way again."
Oregon statute requires that counties' child abuse teams develop a system to review any death of a minor where abuse or neglect may have occurred at any time in the child's life, or where an autopsy is performed by the medical examiner.
The statute leaves room for a range of interpretations, according to Auxier. The CFRT must establish "a written protocol for review of child fatalities," but the statute does not detail standards for the content of a review.
"The statute doesn't necessarily require that all of these people be brought into the same room for a meaningful discussion," Auxier said. "The Amani Center and I made a commitment to doing these in the most meaningful way, not just the most rapid way."
After taking office in July 2017, Auxier approached the Amani Center, a nonprofit that conducts child abuse assessments.
"Under my interpretation of the statute, I don't think we were in complete compliance [prior to the relaunch]," Auxier said of Columbia County, though he noted that every district attorney may have a different interpretation.
"The partnership was really [Auxier] going out and saying, 'This is a priority, we're going to make this happen. Can you help me with this?'" said Cassy Miller, the Amani Center's executive director.
"The CFRT really belongs to the DA's office, but we feel like this is a community effort," Miller said.
To prepare for the CFRT relaunch, the Amani Center worked closely with the National Center for Child Fatality Reviews to learn best practices for conducting reviews.
Child fatality reviews will take place six months to a year after a fatality. Based on consulting with national experts, Auxier and Miller believe "allowing the dust to settle" results in more effective investigations.
"The last thing we want to do is add more trauma to a family," said Miller. "The most important thing here is that we don't rush in and do things just because they need to get done. We go in and do things thoughtfully [so that] there is benefit to the community."
The team conducted its first review Tuesday. "We had a meaningful discussion and came out of it with some recommendations for the county," said Auxier.
Auxier declined to share the recommendations, as the team has only just started a discussion on how they want to publicize outcomes.
It "is no easy task" to "get the leaders of all of the varying agencies who have responsibilities when it comes to child safety in one room," Auxier said.
Team members represent Columbia County's mental health, community justice, and human services programs; the Sheriff's Office; public health programs; school social workers, and city police departments.
The team plans to meet monthly until the backlog is resolved.
"We really came together as a group," Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley said of Tuesday's meeting.
"The work is just beginning today," Auxier said Tuesday.