Kentucky voices

Ky. Voices: Child-fatality panel needs more openness and independence

July 2, 2013 

Terry Brooks is executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

A recent Associated Press article gave Herald-Leader readers a look inside of a growing priority amongst the Thoroughbred community in the Bluegrass — how to better protect horses from the inherent risks of "1,000-pound Thoroughbreds stampeding down the racetrack."

One of the emerging solutions in addressing equine well-being is to establish a horse-fatality review commission. That group, according to the article, would "dig into the details about each horse leading to its life-ending injury."

It seems like a smart notion. According to Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, the purpose of that kind of panel is to learn from those fatalities and to prevent future tragedies.

The horse folks seem aware of and intent on creating a review process that is transparent, accountable and independent.

That is a distinction from the recently established panel to review the deaths of children.

We also need the Child Fatality Review Panel to be located outside of the executive branch, which is currently not the case.

And we need full and public disclosure for panel members as to potential conflicts of interest. This is not currently required.

The racing commission's Health and Welfare Committee already understands the importance of credibility as seen in its discussions of investigative protocols and membership.

I am far from a horse expert (my last correct Derby pick was Giacomo in 2005), but my guess is that membership will matter. If the panel is composed of horse farm owners, its flow will be somewhat different than if the majority members are People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals officers. Folks will also probably want to know if panel members have conflicts of interest as they dig into the details of horse deaths.

That doesn't necessarily mean that a representative from a horse track or a representative from veterinarians should not be on the panel — in fact, they probably should — but it does mean that panel members have to be transparent about their business dealings with any portion of the horse industry.

And then there is the location of the panel. Again, my guess is that a locus with Keeneland means something different than with the racing commission, and the racing commission would mean something different than if lodged in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Yes, we made important first steps in getting the Child Fatality Review Panel established over the past year.

Gov. Steve Beshear deserves thanks for establishing the panel through executive order in the summer of 2012. And the General Assembly deserves our thanks as many legislators worked hard to put the panel into law and improve its accountability standards during the last legislative session.

But let us be clear: We still have a ways to go in protecting children. And maybe — just maybe — now is the perfect time for you to remind your legislators of that.

Call your state senator and representative and let them know we have more steps to take in protecting kids. Let's begin the drumbeat now rather than waiting until the opening gavel falls in Frankfort come January.

And your message? If horses deserve transparency and independence as protections, surely Kentucky's children merit the same.

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