Politics & Government

Summit's goal is to stop child-abuse deaths in Kentucky

The state's leading child advocacy group is hosting a daylong summit Saturday to develop proposals aimed at stopping child-abuse deaths.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said participants in the Kentucky Summit to End Child Abuse Deaths would work on legislative proposals for the 2012 General Assembly.

The issue of child fatalities and near-fatalities caused by abuse and neglect is "a topic of rising importance," he said.

The state began releasing redacted documents in December about more than 80 children who were killed or nearly killed from neglect and abuse in 2009 and 2010.

The release came after the Herald-Leader and The (Louisville) Courier-Journal sued the state twice in recent years to get access to case files of children who have died or nearly died as a result of abuse and neglect. Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled in both cases that child-protection records are public in such cases.

A Herald-Leader review of the documents found a lack of consistency in how the Cabinet for Health and Family Services conducts internal reviews when a child is killed or nearly killed. Some reviews, which are required by law, were lengthy and thorough, while others contained a single sheet of paper that didn't even indicate whether the child died.

The summit in Louisville will gather judges, key lawmakers, medical and mental health professionals, educators and officials from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which investigates reports of abuse and neglect.

Brooks said the goal would be to come up with three to five legislative proposals to give Gov. Steve Beshear, Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

Brooks said advocates have made ending child deaths caused by abuse and neglect a priority for the past two years, but he said the summit was convened after the newspapers' lawsuits "brought public attention and scrutiny to the issue."

"It clearly brought legislative attention to a topic that had been discussed too little and too infrequently," he said.

The lawsuits were "a catalyst to bringing us into a time where we believe that some action could happen."

About 250 people are registered to attend the summit, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza, 830 Phillips Lane, Louisville.

The event is free and open to anyone interested in the issue. Participants must register in advance at Kyyouth.org. On-site registration begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.