Kentucky Panel Reviewing Child Deaths Won't Get Full Look at Files

Nov 28, 2012

A panel created to review child deaths and severe abuse or neglect cases will have access only to files that have been redacted. The Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal report the announcement on at the group's first meeting caused concern from some members, such as Sen. Julie Denton, who said it might be difficult for the commission to accomplish its purpose.

Gov. Steve Beshear created the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel in July after months of media scrutiny over the handling of child abuse cases. The panel is expected to recommend how the state can better protect children.

"We can't start with one hand tied behind our back," Denton said. "If we can't get full reports or documents, you don't know the whole story. How do we know that those documents aren't critical to knowing how the system broke down?"

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services says the files will contain only details that have been deemed public record because the panel's meetings are open to the public.

Teresa James, commissioner of the cabinet's department of community based services, said staff would provide the group with a list of documents they won't get due to privacy concerns.

Denton also complained that the state agency didn't have files ready for the group to begin reviewing.

"I am a little disappointed that the cabinet knew that we were meeting today and didn't have everything necessary for the panel. ... This isn't a surprise that we were going to ask for these," Denton said.

James said eight files would be available this week, but it would take more time to prepare the other 43 cases, which are in offices across the state. Cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said the agency wanted direction from the panel before pulling and copying the voluminous files.

Panel Chairman retired Circuit Court Judge Roger Crittenden proposed that the agency provides the group at its next meeting in January with a list of documents not included in the case files so that members can discuss whether additional information is needed.

Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky spokesman Joel Griffith said he is not opposed to the group reviewing some information privately as along as it looks for flaws in the system, not to cover up mistakes.

"What we know about child abuse is that lots of people touch a child and a family at all different points," Griffith said, adding that each point needs to be examined to find ways to improve.

"It can't be about which agency did something wrong," he said. "Child well-being is the priority."