Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks released the following statement on Gov. Steve Beshear's decision to release state child death records.
Today the Governor took an important step in protecting Kentucky’s children when he ordered the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release records associated with child deaths due to abuse and neglect. We applaud the Governor’s leadership in wanting to create more transparency in a system that deals with the most fragile in our society – abused and neglected children. This commitment to a more transparent way of doing business is imperative to reinventing Kentucky’s child welfare system, restoring the public’s confidence and most importantly, ensuring better outcomes for children.
The Governor also put forth three additional proposals in order to bring needed and necessary elements of accountability to play: legislation related to child deaths, the creation of an independent panel, and a thorough review of the Cabinet's practices.
As important as the elements of transparency and accountability are, and as promising as the Governor's proposals may be, they are only the beginning steps in a series of necessary actions if the Commonwealth really wants to protect its youngest citizens from harm and help parents learn the skills they need to handle crises. The state needs frontline workers who are highly qualified, well-equipped and responsible for a manageable case load. In addition, prevention services are key to stopping abuse from occurring in the first place and should be expanded. Frankly, some of these actions may require more fiscal resources, or it may mean redirecting resources to the areas which need it most. Yet, dollars can never be an excuse to accept child deaths due to abuse and neglect.
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There is also an array of best practices that can be implemented with little or no cost. More formalized and consistent case protocols; more intentional connections between the child welfare sector and schools, law enforcement, faith communities and the medical community; and, more relevant public awareness campaigns around abuse and neglect are examples of common sense and low-cost ideas that will make a difference.
The final issue is one as simple as compliance with the law. The Cabinet is required by law to issue an annual report by September 1 around child deaths and near deaths due to abuse and neglect. Last year’s September 1 report had a copyright date of December. This year’s report? Still not issued. That is a failure of compliance and it is a failure that needs fixing.
It is time for Kentucky leaders to take care of our children and investigate the child welfare system to get to the heart of the problem. And this must happen soon. No more children should die while Kentucky dances around this issue.
Today was an important beginning. But it was only a beginning.