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‘Culture of secrecy’ about child deaths

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12:00am on Nov 4, 2011; Modified: 1:40am on Nov 4, 2011


The Beshear administration should quit wasting resources fighting to keep state records in child abuse deaths secret.

For one thing, the administration will ultimately lose. That should be obvious to everyone after Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd’s latest ruling in a suit brought by the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

More important, providing the public and policymakers with a clear view of the child-protection agency’s decision-making and actions will make the agency more accountable and keep Kentucky’s children safer.

For the second time in less than a year, Shepherd has ruled that federal law allows the release of state records in child deaths or near deaths and the Kentucky Open Records Act requires it.

He once again ordered the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to unseal the records

Between rulings, the cabinet took its case to federal court but got nowhere. It also adopted an emergency regulation effectively negating the state court order. Shepherd ruled the regulation had been improperly enacted.

State lawyers have argued the cabinet could lose federal funding for child protection if it violates federal privacy laws by releasing state files, even in cases of fatal or near-fatal abuse or neglect.

The cabinet offers no evidence to support this claim, saying only that federal guidance is “sketchy.”

However, Shepherd cites mandates in federal law for the disclosure of information related to child deaths and near deaths.

And he quotes U.S. Senate and House reports that say the purpose of disclosure is to promote the public accountability of child-protection agencies and drive systemic reform.

The claim about privacy concerns and imperiling federal funding is bogus; the cabinet should be embarrassed to keep offering it.

However, as Shepherd notes, “the cabinet is so immersed in the culture of secrecy regarding these issues that it is institutionally incapable of recognizing and implementing the clear requirement of the law.”

The victims of this “culture of secrecy” are Kentucky’s most vulnerable children.

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Written by dawneworswick

November 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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