Politics & Government

Members named to panel reviewing Kentucky's child-abuse deaths

FRANKFORT — Retired Franklin Circuit Court Judge Roger Crittenden will head a new independent panel that will examine deaths and severe injuries involving abused or neglected children in Kentucky.

Crittenden was one of 17 people named Wednesday to the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel. Attorney General Jack Conway appointed many of the panel members. Others were appointed by their peer groups.

The external review panel, which Gov. Steve Beshear created in July, includes doctors, prosecutors, social workers, advocates and police officers.

The group will meet quarterly, review all child deaths and near-deaths resulting from abuse or neglect, and issue annual reports that will be posted online and sent to Beshear, Chief Supreme Court Justice John D. Minton and the legislature. In addition, the panel will make recommendations when needed on how to strengthen child protection in the cabinet and in outside agencies.

"In those instances when a child dies or is critically injured because of abuse or neglect, we must carefully examine the practices of the government entities whose job it is to prevent such tragedies," Beshear said. "What we learn will help us implement new policies if needed. This panel will play a critical role in our efforts to protect Kentucky's children."

The external review panel will be housed in the Cabinet for Justice and Public Safety and will be separate from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees Kentucky's child protection workers. The cabinet is required to conduct its own internal review after the death or severe injury of a child as a result of abuse.

Advocates pushed for an external review panel after several news stories questioned how the cabinet conducted its internal reviews. In some cases, the cabinet admitted that no internal review was conducted after a child died from abuse.

A review of cases by the Lexington Herald-Leader found wide inconsistencies in how child-protection offices around the state conducted internal reviews in 2009 and 2010, and in the scope of recommendations they produced. Some of the reviews appeared to be thorough, but in others, child-protection workers produced only one-page reports with little detail on what happened to the children and no assessment of potential improvements.

Some of the other panel appointees are Dr. Melissa Currie, a University of Louisville pediatrician and one of the leading authorities in Kentucky on child-abuse deaths; Dr. Tracey Corey, the state medical examiner; Jenny Pitts Oldham, the Hardin County attorney; and Sherry Currens, the executive director of the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association.

Non-voting members of the panel include Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee; Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare committee; and Teresa James, commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, which oversees child protection.

A date for the first meeting of the panel has not yet been set.

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