Panel yields sensible ideas for keeping Kentucky children safe

When the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel began its work in late 2012, it encountered the same stonewall mentality from Cabinet for Health and Family Services officials the media had run up against during years of litigation stemming from the officials' refusal to release records concerning deaths of children under cabinet supervision.

Why cabinet officials were so reluctant to cooperate with a review panel, initially created by Gov. Steve Beshear's executive order and subsequently given statutory status by the General Assembly, only they can say with certainty.

But if concerns about an external review turning into a finger-pointing witch hunt contributed to any of the cabinet's foot-dragging, those fears should be allayed following release of the oversight panel's first report this past week.

The report more than justified the panel's creation. Instead of pointing fingers, it focused on finding solutions by making several constructive, sensible recommendations for improving the system and saving children's lives.

These ranged from such basics as educating parents about the dangers of sleeping with or shaking their infants to more controversial issues such as opening family court hearings on neglect and abuse cases, and testing caregivers for drugs during the investigation of the unexpected death of a child.

The panel also urged a study of child-protection workers' caseloads.

Each of the recommendations deserves serious consideration by the administration and/or the General Assembly.

Some will require a bit of money, at a time when state government is counting every penny. But what price do you place on a child's life?

No doubt, drug testing and opening court hearings will generate controversy. But these are debates lawmakers and the public need to have, and have now.

Still, overriding the value of implementing all of its collective recommendations, the report's optimum outcome would be achieved if it puts some cracks in the stonewall mentality at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services by showing officials there the to-do over access to records, whether for the review panel or the media, isn't about playing a game of "gotcha."

It's about finding ways to make the system work better and save more children's lives. And it's OK for the cabinet to cooperate in this endeavor.