Karly's Law


Karly’s Law FAQ

A photo of Karly smiling wth a soccer ball


Who is Karly Sheehan?

Karly Sheehan was a 3 year old child who died as a result of child abuse in 2005. In the months prior to her death, she was the subject of two child abuse investigations—neither of which ended in a substantiated allegation of abuse. Despite many suspicious injuries, Karly was never seen by a doctor specially trained in child abuse assessment, and the investigation failed to maintain photographic evidence of Karly’s injuries.

What is Karly’s Law?

Karly’s Law improves child abuse investigations by ensuring timely photographs of injuries, mandating that injured children have access to a physician specially trained in child abuse, improving collaboration among members of the child abuse investigation team, and ensuring that a complete investigation (including photographs and medical assessment) are completed every time a child experiences a suspicious physical injury.

Karly’s Law was passed in 2007 as House Bill 3328, and can be found in Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 418.747, 418.785 and 419B.005 to 419B.050. The legislation was drafted and chief sponsored by Representative Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis/Philomath).

What is a "suspicious physical injury" and what happens when an injury is discovered?

Karly’s Law recognizes that law enforcement officers and child protective service workers are not physicians, and are not able to accurately diagnose abuse. This is why the law requires that child abuse investigators photograph all injuries immediately, and then get the injured child to the designated medical professional within 48 hours for a complete assessment of the situation.

There is no discretion: If the child has a suspicious injury, the protocols in Karly’s Law must be followed.

The law defines any one of the following as a "suspicious physical injury": Burns or scalds; bruising, swelling or abrasions on the head, neck or face; fractures of any bone in a child under the age of three; multiple fractures in a child of any age; dislocations, soft tissue swelling or moderate to severe cuts; loss of the ability to walk or move normally according to the child’s developmental ability; unconsciousness

or difficulty maintaining consciousness; multiple injuries of different types; injuries causing serious or protracted disfigurement or loss of impairment of the function of any bodily organ; or any other injury that threatens the physical well being of the child.

What is a "designated medical professional"?

The designated medical professional is a doctor, physican’s assistant or nurse practitioner who is specially trained to diagnose and respond to injuries caused by child abuse. In addition, the individual is designated by the county child abuse response team as a qualified individual to conduct Karly’s Law examination. Typically, the designated medical professional is not an emergency room physician or the child’s regular pediatrician.

What are the requirements for photography of injuries?

Child abuse investigators must ensure that photographs are taken of all injuries at the time they are discovered. Within 48 hours, hard copies of the photographs must be provided to the designated medical professional assessing the child, and to law enforcement or other entity maintaining evidence in the case. In addition, if a multidisciplinary child abuse team meets to discuss the case, the photographs must be made available to each member of the team. It is important to note, that photos of the anal and genital region may only be taken by medical personnel.

What does Karly’s Law say about a child who is the subject of multiple child abuse investigations?

Karly’s Law ensures that a child will benefit from a complete investigation every time there is are the subject of a report in which a suspicious physical injury is discovered. Even if a prior allegation of abuse was unfounded, the process must begin again.

What does Karly’s Law require when there is a death caused by child abuse?

Karly’s Law requires that the state convene a team to review the history of a child’s case if the child was the subject of any report of abuse in the 12 months prior to her death, regardless of whether the child was in foster care or the outcome of prior abuse investigations. The Law also allows a District Attorney to submit a letter to the Governor outlining any systemic changes she would recommend to prevent similar cases in the future.

How has Karly’s Law impacted Oregon children?

Since the passage of Karly’s Law, the number of children assessed for physical abuse increased by about 140%. It is important to remember that Karly’s Law did not increase the number of children who were abused. Its protocols simply revealed injuries that were previously either undetected, or not medically assessed as part of a child abuse investigation. Early, accurate diagnosis leads to better interventions to ensure the safety of children and their families. That is Karly’s legacy.

How can I get more information about Karly’s Law?

You can email Sara Gelser at rep.saragelser@state.or.us or visit her website at www.saragelser.com/karly . The website includes a link to the text of HB 3328.

The Oregon Department of Justice has this information page on Karly’s Law: http://www.doj.state.or.us/victims/karlys_law.shtml


Read the Law here:  http://www.leg.state.or.us/07reg/measpdf/hb3300.dir/hb3328.en.pdf

For more information about the history of the legislation, and how to develop similar legislation in your state you can email Rep. Gelser at rep.saragelser@state.or.us