Another child fell through the cracks

December 18, 2008 

A day-care center operator says she twice reported her suspicions that 2-year-old Katelynn Stinnett was in danger.

We know, now, that she was right. Katelynn is dead.

Police allege that the toddler's 18-year-old live-in baby sitter raped and killed her.

What we don't know, and may never know, is how the state agency that's supposed to protect children responded to the day-care operator's warnings.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services keeps a tight lid on its internal investigations of child fatalities.

As a result, it's almost impossible for the public and policy-makers to know how well the state is protecting children.

The ostensible reason for the secrecy is to safeguard the confidentiality of victims and their siblings. That's certainly a legitimate concern when the state is investigating alleged abuse.

But in this case, the victim is dead and has no interest in having her privacy protected. Her 3-year-old brother was placed in foster care after his sister's death. His parents' names have been widely reported in the media.

It's hard to see how public scrutiny of the cabinet's performance could hurt the sibling anymore than he's already been hurt.

State law gives the cabinet the discretion to release its reports on child fatalities. But, fearing lawsuits, perhaps, the cabinet routinely bottles up such information.

In Katelynne's case, the day-care center operator says she reported her concerns to a social-services hotline. She said she also spoke personally to someone in the agency's Paris office who works with day-care centers.

She said she was told by the staffer that she shouldn't judge the parents and was advised to show compassion for a struggling single father.

Obviously, the cabinet must respond with an internal investigation of its own performance. Refusing to share those findings will make people suspect that the real motive is not to protect kids but to protect state employees from criticism.

The legislature must follow the lead of other states and find ways to throw more light on Kentucky's child-protection system.

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