We know it's popular to blame the federal government for everything. But the Beshear administration borders on the ridiculous by continuing to insist that federal law prohibits releasing records when children die on the state's watch.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act does require states to maintain the confidentiality of child abuse and neglect investigations in order to receive funding.
This is not a blanket blackout, however. There are exceptions, and one of the prominent exceptions is when a child dies or is put at serious risk of dying.
In these cases, federal law requires states to make information public.
It's up to the states to decide how much information to release. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has decided to release very little.
In a suit filed by the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd has ruled that records pertaining to the deaths and near-deaths of children from abuse and neglect are public records. Despite that, the administration keeps fighting to keep them closed.
A lawyer for the cabinet told Shepherd again on Wednesday that the state would risk losing federal funding for child protection by opening the records of child deaths and near deaths.
This argument only reinforces the perception that the cabinet is really fighting to cover up its own shortcomings and mistakes — and that Gov. Steve Beshear is OK with hiding mistakes, even those that contribute to the death of a child.
There may be, as the cabinet also contends, legitimate privacy concerns for family members and others named in child abuse investigations. Such concerns can be accommodated within the Kentucky Open Records Act.
There is no question that the public has a compelling interest in understanding how the state handles child abuse and neglect cases.
When a child dies, despite the involvement of child protection workers, the public and policy-makers need to know what went wrong.
The weaknesses in child protection — including lack of funding and staffing — won't be fixed until there is a better understanding of what the weaknesses are.