The Herald-Leader, the Courier-Journal and other media outlets should be commended for their coverage of child abuse fatalities and near-fatalities in Kentucky. Because of this coverage, the public is more aware of an oft-unspoken reality: Every year, children in Kentucky die needlessly, or are nearly killed, at the hands of their caretakers.
Because of the awareness facilitated by the media, the Kentucky legislature has focused on the need for system changes, and the governor has committed to supporting these changes. Child advocates are united in their belief in the need for improvement in several areas.
Given the media's important role in informing the public about child abuse deaths and near-deaths, the recent Herald-Leader editorial asking the legislature to take no action by letting Senate Bill 126 "die" is misguided.
The position stated in the editorial does nothing to improve public policy and argues only to maintain the status quo.
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Much of the information in the editorial is not factual and appears based on vague assumptions. It is not productive to try to dispute each of those assumptions in this writing. It is more appropriate to focus on what SB 126 will do for children.
The editorial states that to do nothing this session would "do no harm." Yet, each year, literally dozens of children will die, or be close to death, in Kentucky as a result of abuse and neglect. To do nothing on behalf of these children for another year does in fact do harm.
The child-protection reforms proposed in SB 126 are good for children and families in Kentucky. Most importantly, an external child-fatality review panel will be established in Kentucky. This panel will create a process whereby an independent panel of experts conducts an in-depth review of all child abuse fatalities or near-fatalities. This panel will identify opportunities of needed systems reform and develop data-informed prevention opportunities.
Many states have already established these review panels. Shouldn't Kentucky at least implement a similar process and give it a chance to work?
Contrary to the assertion by the Herald-Leader, an external child-fatality review panel would not be a source of harm. SB 126 creates other needed changes. The creation of an Independent Office for Oversight of Child Protective Services promises to provide greater accountability and oversight of Kentucky's child welfare system.
Prompted by the Amy Dye case, important statute changes clarify the practice regarding the investigation of abuse of children at the hands of adults in the home other than the parent. The Herald-Leader's call to postpone legislative action does nothing for the victims of the past, nor does it prevent future tragedies that may occur before the next legislative session.
Admittedly, the proposals offered in SB 126 are not perfect. More can and should be done to improve transparency of the system. Transparency is a complex issue, deserving of further study. However, failing to implement important changes contained in SB 126, in pursuit of the perfect solution to the transparency issue is clearly misguided.