Though it made big, breaking news last week, releasing state records about severe child abuse isn’t new in Kentucky, writes Joseph Gerth, right, in a column in The Courier-Journal.
“During Gov. Brereton Jones’ term in office from 1991-1995, the state social-work agency released child-fatality reports on its own,” he writes. “That came after an earlier tragic death of a child in Wayne County who was beaten to death by his stepfather after numerous contacts with state social workers.”
Gerth’s column comes after last Tuesday’s announcement by Gov. Steve Beshear that he ordered the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release records pertaining to children who have been killed or nearly killed as a result of abuse or neglect. “Transparency will be the new rule,” he said.
Gerth said Beshear “finally gave in to mounting pressure from the media, an angry judge and frustrated legislators to release the records involving the death of a Wayne County toddler who drank drain cleaner that was allegedly being used to produce methamphetamine,” Gerth writes. The C-J and the Lexington Herald-Leader had long been suing the cabinet to release documentation pertaining to the case and Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd had twice ruled the cabinet do so.
In the 1990s, it was then-cabinet Secretary Masten Childers II who ordered that child-fatality records be released. “The reports showed that the agency wasn’t doing its job and that low-paid social workers were stretched thin and handling too many cases,” Gerth writes. “Jones ultimately called for raising the pay for the lowest-paid social workers … and he called for hiring 60 more social workers across the state. Could it have been that Childers believed more in openness than the current secretary, Janie Miller?” (Read more)