Herald-Leader Editorial

No added secrecy about child deaths

Bill on records review needs makeover

February 14, 2013 

You can't cure a culture of secrecy with more secrecy.

Yet that's what's proposed in House Bill 290. This legislation purports to bring more accountability to child protection in Kentucky, but it would layer even more secrecy onto a system that has lost the public's trust because it has been so secretive.

This won't work, which is why Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, and his House Health and Welfare Committee should give HB 290 a makeover.

Sponsored by Burch, the bill moves in the right direction by ensuring that an independent review panel would have access to the unredacted records of child deaths and serious injuries that it needs to do its job.

The legislation would put into law a process for reviewing the most serious abuse and neglect cases and recommending improvements in the system.

Gov. Steve Beshear created the review process through executive order and his panel has met twice. Its work has been impeded by the Cabinet for Health and Family Service's withholding of information.

Burch's bill would allow more information to flow to the panel but it imposes restrictions on what the panelists would be allowed to discuss in public, would close records that should be open under the Kentucky Open Records Act and allow the cabinet to destroy records.

It would require the review panel members to sign a confidentiality oath restricting what they could say in public.

It's possible to protect sensitive information, such as the identity of people who report child abuse, without erecting another wall of secrecy around the child protection agency.

HB 290 also would attach the review panel to the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. If the panel is to be truly independent and effective, it should be attached to an agency outside the administration.

Just as only light can drive out darkness, an open view of how Kentucky responds to child abuse and neglect is the only way to improve the system and protect our state's most innocent citizens, who are also its future.

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