House committee approves panel to investigate child-abuse deaths; findings would be closed to public

An independent panel of experts would look into the deaths of abused and neglected children and then give recommendations to state officials for how to improve its child-protection system. That was the proposal that was approved unanimously Thursday by the House Health and Welfare Committee.

In House Bill 200, “the group’s meetings would be closed to the public, and its documents would remain secret,” reports Beth Musgrave for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Jon Fleishchaker, a lawyer for the Kentucky Press Association, said there was no reason why the business of the panel should be secret. “We are all for a statewide panel,” he said, “but the public needs to be able to see what the recommendations are.”

The bill would also outline what information the Cabinet for Health and Family Services would be responsible for releasing to the public when “abused children who have had previous contact with the cabinet die or are severely injured,” Musgrave reports. The legislation would allow the cabinet to “keep the names of children who suffered serious, non-fatal injuries and information that would identify siblings in the home,” Musgrave reports.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services has been embroiled in a lawsuit with The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader, which sued the cabinet in order to seek documents pertaining to child abuse deaths or near-deaths. A Franklin Circuit Court judge has twice ruled that the cabinet turn over its files, but it has appealed. (Read more)
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