Politics & Government

Group reviewing child abuse deaths wants to hire staff to analyze cases

FRANKFORT — Members of a panel charged with reviewing child abuse deaths in Kentucky outlined Thursday what the group hopes to accomplish this year with the $420,000 it is seeking from lawmakers.

Melissa Currie, a child abuse pediatrician and member of the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, told lawmakers about several areas of concern it unearthed last year when sifting through hundreds of case files about children killed or nearly killed as a result of abuse and neglect.

The panel is asking for money to hire two staff members and a part-time lawyer so that it can analyze the case files further and generate recommendations to improve Kentucky's child-protection systems.

"It can be absolutely heartbreaking to see the places where our system fails these children," said Currie, who works at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

The panel was created by Gov. Steve Beshear in July 2012, and the legislature last year made it permanent. The legislation required the panel to prepare a list of recommendations by Dec. 1 last year, but the 20-member group said it needed more time and money to fulfill its mission.

State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said she is confident lawmakers will find a way to fund the panel's request.

"I think everybody understands just how important this is," Westrom said.

Although the panel hasn't made any specific suggestions, members did urge the House Health and Welfare Committee to approve House Bill 157, which would require pediatricians, radiologists, family doctors and emergency medicine physicians to receive training on recognizing and preventing pediatric abusive head trauma.

"Our medical professionals, specifically our physicians ... are missing child abuse," Currie said. "They simply don't have the information they need."

She said the panel also hopes to produce specific recommendations in coming months about preventing unsafe sleeping for infants, which routinely plays a role in child abuse and neglect cases. Putting children to sleep in unsafe areas is particularly troublesome when combined with a caregiver who has a substance abuse problem, Currie said.

Another problem that needs more study, Currie said, is a lack of communication among the various groups of people — social workers, police, schools and physicians — who work to protect children.

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