Report of the Oregon Senate Interim Task Force
Parental and Family Abductions
To: The Honorable Peter Courtney, President, Oregon State Senate
From: The Senate Interim Task Force on Parental and Family Abductions
The Senate Interim Task Force on Parental and Family Abductions (“The Task Force”), chaired by Senators Gordly and Morse is pleased to report to the President of the Oregon State Senate, the Honorable Peter Courtney, that it has completed its assigned task of reviewing the current state of Oregon law as it relates to the serious problem of parents abducting their own children in order to negate the lawful orders of Oregon courts regarding child custody and parental visitation rights. We have enclosed a list of the members of your Task Force, with biographies, and labeled it attachment “A.”
Since June of this year, The Task Force has conducted four hearings and during these hearings has taken testimony from witnesses concerning the extent of the problem, reviewed current federal and state law, reviewed current state policy, reviewed and debated possible changes to state policy and law and has made recommendations concerning changes to this policy and law.
Furthermore, The Task Force finds that often parents involved in a divorce, or parents of children born out of wedlock who are involved in custody disputes, often take out their anger with each other through their children; some retain or flee with their children to ensure the access and control that has been denied them, or they fear will be denied them; others even abduct their own child in order to interfere with the other parent’s right to custody or parenting time.
We further find that this is extremely detrimental to the emotional and mental well being of the children, and at time may even put the life of the child in danger.
In order to lessen the incidence of parental abductions and to lessen the damage done to these children who are the victims of parental abductions, your Task Force has taken the following actions and makes the following recommendations:
1. We have asked that the Joint Interim Judiciary Committee introduce, on behalf of The Task Force, LC 847 and LC 858 and recommend their enactment into law. We have attached copies of each LC and labeled them attachments “B” and “C” respectively.
2. We recommend that the Commission on Children and Families continue to work with Take Root, King County, Washington, the Oregon mental health treatment community and the Oregon law enforcement community to develop a better understanding of the trauma victims of parental abduction suffer and how best to treat this trauma. And, as part of this process, develop with the Oregon State Bar a symposium for the legal community, the mental health treatment community and the law enforcement community.
3. We recommend that you, on behalf of The Task Force, encourage the Judicial Branch and the Oregon State Bar to assist in educating judges, prosecutors and family law practitioners concerning the problem of parental abduction, its impact on children, and the need to better understand and utilize current statutory provisions relating to the prosecution of the crime of custodial interference and the enforcement of parenting plans and orders.
4. We recommend that you, on behalf of The Task Force, inform the Oregon Congressional Delegation of our support of the Polly Klaas Foundation’s proposed federal legislation, “The Family Abduction Prevention Act of 2005.”
Legislative Recommendation 1
LC 847 would extend the statute of limitations for the crime of custodial interference in the first and second degree from four years to six years after the commission of the crime or, if the victim at the time of the crime was under 18 years of age, anytime before the victim attains 24 years of age or within six years after the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency or other governmental agency.
This would mean that the statute of limitations for custodial interference would be the same as it is currently for sex offenses. Your Task Force believes that the rationale for doing this is the same for the statute of limitations on sex crimes. A child who is removed from the lawful custody of one parent by another is a victim. That child is similarly situated to many underage victims of sex crimes. The perpetrator of the crime is the child’s parent. Too often, at the time of the offense, the victim is unaware that they have been abused or that they have a right to seek redress. LC 847 would give a person, who as a child was a victim of a parental abduction, the ability to seek prosecution when the person is an adult and better able to understand the ramifications of the abduction.
Legislative Recommendation 2
LC 858 amends the current definition of what is an “injury” within Oregon’s Victim’s Compensation Act to include the injury a child incurs when that child is the victim of custodial interference. Currently, the injury a child receives, when the child has been abducted by one of the child’s parents, does not necessarily include physical injury. The injury is more in the nature of mental trauma or mental injury. Nonetheless, the injury is real and may be even more long lasting and damaging than physical injury. LC 858 is intended to include this injury within
Oregon’s Victim Compensation Act so that children who have been abducted by their parent, in violation of Oregon’s custodial interference statutes, can be compensated.
Task Force member, and Executive Director of the Oregon Commission on Children and Families, Mickey Lansing, on behalf of The Task Force, met with the Board of Social Workers and the Board of Psychologists concerning the current training their respective professions receive regarding the treatment of victims of parental abduction. What she found was a general lack of awareness of the problem.
With the assistance of Task Force member Liss Hart-Haviv, of Take Root, an advocacy group for victims of parental abduction, Ms. Lansing contacted Take Root’s Law Enforcement Consultant, Officer David Barnard of the Missing Children’s Unit of the King County, Washington sheriff’s office. He described the King County program where a mental health provider accompanies sheriff’s deputies when retrieving a victim of a parental abduction. Ms. Lansing added that Take Root, as part of its program for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in King County, is developing a curriculum to train law enforcement and mental health workers and would share it with us.
Ms. Lansing stated that, although parental abduction was not within the Oregon Commission on Children and Families purview, she would continue to work with Ms. Hart-Haviv, the mental health treatment community, and the law enforcement community to develop a program similar to that which King County has developed. Ms. Lansing has volunteered to report back to the Co-Chairs of The Task Force, Senators Gordly and Morse concerning the progress of her
endeavors even after your Task Force has completed its work and gone out of existence.
We applaud her for her efforts and look forward to her report. Furthermore, we recommend that you, on behalf of The Task Force, encourage the appropriate Senate committee to receive this report during the 2005 legislative session.
The Task Force heard testimony from the Oregon Department of Justice and the Oregon State Police, Missing Children’s Clearinghouse on the Federal Parent Locator Service, a federally mandated program operated through the Oregon Department of Justice, Division of Child Support, that assists in locating missing children. The service is available for use by the courts and the law enforcement community.
The Department of Justice stated that it will promote greater awareness of the service through articles in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, a publication distributed to all judges and attorneys in Oregon. The department added that a similar article will appear in the Oregon District Attorney Association publication. The two agencies stated they will work together to educate law enforcement officers about the locator service.
At one point, The Task Force considered legislation that would have required that all local law enforcement agencies report missing children to The Oregon State Police, Missing Children’s Clearinghouse. However, after the State Police and the Department of Justice met and discussed the issue, they determined that the State Police could obtain this information by an administrative process that will automatically notify the Missing Children’s Clearinghouse of all reports of missing children made by state, county and local law enforcement agencies.
Consequently, The Task Force decided this legislation is not needed (Seven years later, the State Police has not kept its promise to the Task Force).
The Task Force heard testimony that one of the leading causes of parental abduction is the failure to enforce parenting time orders and agreements. Some parents take children to ensure the access and control they feel they are entitled to pursuant to their parenting plan that, in their opinion, is not being enforced.
The Task Force considered a legislative proposal pertaining to judicial authority to enforce parenting time orders and agreements. However, after reviewing existing legal remedies, The Task Force is of the opinion that current law is adequate to address failures of parents to abide by parenting agreements.
In particular, The Task Force is of the opinion that parental abduction, by either the custodial or non-custodial parent, may constitute “immediate danger” to the child and warrants a change of custody pursuant to ORS 107.097 or ORS 107.139.
What is lacking is an understanding of how current legal remedies can be used to more thoroughly enforce parenting plans and orders. In order to rectify this, The Task Force asks you to communicate with the Judicial Branch, the Oregon State Bar and the Oregon District Attorneys Association on the need to make judges, prosecutors and family law practitioners aware of existing remedies and the need to enforce these provisions.
Furthermore, we suggest that the Oregon State Bar be encouraged to develop, in conjunction with the mental health treatment community and The Commission on Children and Families, a symposium on the legal and mental health aspects for the prevention of parental abduction and the treatment of its victims. To assist you in this endeavor, we have attached a draft letter to the State Court Administrator, Kingsley Click, and to the Executive Director of the Oregon State Bar, Karen Garst.
The Polly Klaas Foundation is a national nonprofit corporation that is dedicated to finding missing children and helping to prevent them from being missing in the first place. It accomplishes its goals by promoting public policies, educating the public, and providing families, law enforcement and communities with the ongoing support and expertise needed to protect our children. Since its founding in 1993, The Foundation has helped more than 4,500 families find missing children.
The Polly Klaas Foundation will reintroduce before Congress, “The Family Abduction Prevention Act of 2005.” This bill was developed in consultation with Take Root and would fund grants to states for programs that:
(1) Extradite individuals suspected of committing a family abduction back to the state from which the child was taken;
(2) Investigate family abduction cases;
(3) Train state and local law enforcement agencies in responding to family abductions and recovering abducted children, including the development of written guidelines and technical assistance;
(4) Conduct outreach and media campaigns to educate parents on the dangers of family abductions; and
(5) Flag school records.
The Task Force urges you, on behalf of The Task Force, to inform the Oregon Congressional Delegation of our support of this legislation.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, in 1999 an estimated 203,900 children were victims of family abductions with 20 percent of the abductions involving more than one perpetrator.
Although there are no numbers for Oregon regarding parental abductions, The Task Force is of the opinion that the rate of parental abductions in Oregon mirrors the rate for the country. In other words, there appear to be at least 5,000 parental abductions in Oregon every year.
These abductions are illegal; they cause a tremendous amount of grief and anxiety for the parent or guardian with legal custody, and they cause immeasurable damage, both psychological and sometimes physical, to the abducted child.
We hope, Mr. President, that your Task Force has not only made you more aware of this very much-ignored problem, but has made others also aware. We believe that your Task Force can confidently say that, through its efforts, those responsible for tracking missing children have developed a more efficient process for doing so. We hope that you will ensure that the legislation we are proposing is given due consideration during the 2005 legislative session, and
we urge you to communicate with the Oregon State Bar and the State Court Administrator’s Office to urge them to inform their respective constituencies regarding parental abduction.
Finally, we, once again, urge you to inform our Congressional Delegation of the need to enact “The Family Abduction Prevention Act of 2005.”
Date: December 2004