Kentucky's children will be safer, thanks to Gov. Steve Beshear's creation of an external panel to review the state's handling of cases in which a child dies from abuse or neglect.
Audrey Haynes, who Beshear appointed secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Families in April, said the governor told her creation of an independent review process should be a top priority.
That's consistent with the concern Beshear has shown for the health and well-being of Kentucky's children, even if he's had little money to back up that commitment.
So, it's regrettable that at the same time the administration took this step toward accountability and transparency it continued to fight a rear-guard action against accountability and transparency.
Beshear created the external review process on the same day the cabinet appealed lower-court rulings opening state records in cases of child fatalities or near fatalities.
The administration has unsuccessfully tried to get a federal court and the state Court of Appeals to block Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd's ruling that state records in such cases are subject to Kentucky's Open Records Act.
The open records law has provisions for shielding the privacy of minor siblings and some informants but a public agency's decisions to withhold such information are subject to court review.
The cabinet, already on the hook for $73,000 in fines and attorneys fees for the Herald-Leader and Courier-Journal, wants the power to withhold information without being subject to anyone's review.
As long as the cabinet keeps fighting to withhold information when a child dies on its watch, the public will understandably suspect cover-ups.
While the legal fight drags on, Beshear should make clear the review panel, whose meetings will be open, has access to all the information it needs. The panel will publish its findings annually.
Also, Beshear's order anticipates no costs associated with creation of the external review process. To be effective, the panel will need some staff assistance.
Otherwise, there's a lot to commend Beshear's executive order. It protects the panel's independence by attaching it to the Cabinet for Justice and Public Safety rather than to Health and Families, whose performance the panel will be scrutinizing.
The process for appointing the 17 members also protects their independence. Those who don't serve by virtue of their positions, including the chairperson, will be appointed by the attorney general.
The four non-voting ex officio members will be the commissioner of the Department of Community Based Services, the state agency responsible for child protection; the chairs of the House and Senate Health and Welfare committees, and a judge appointed by the chief justice.
It makes sense to have these individuals in the room because they have critical roles in fixing any breakdowns identified in the state's child protection system.
And that — learning from mistakes to strengthen protections against child abuse and neglect — is the whole point.
With that in mind, the panel should expeditiously review the cases of Kayden Branham and Amy Dye. Even though both children died horrific deaths on the cabinet's watch, the cases were never the subject of internal reviews by the cabinet as required by state law.