Beshear to have outside panel review cases of children killed or life-threatened by abuse

An independent panel of experts will review cases of children who have been killed or severely hurt by child abuse or neglect, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Monday. The panel will have 17 members and be based in the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. Its aim will be to assess if the state’s child-protection workers did all they could to protect children who died as a result of abuse. It will also determine causes of death.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services “released thousands of pages of documents Monday that detail the state’s involvement with dozens of children who were killed or nearly killed as a result of abuse of neglect,” reports Beth Musgrave for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Still, the cabinet continues to withhold some case files and has redacted large portions of others.”

The release is the result of a lengthy court battle between the cabinet and the state’s two largest newspapers, the Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal. The newspapers argued documents pertaining to these cases were subject to open record laws and Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd agreed. The cabinet released 76 of about 140 files, but with key information omitted. In February, Shepherd ruled the cabinet had 90 days to hand over remaining case files, fined the cabinet $16,000 for withholding the records and ordered it to pay $57,000 in attorney fees for the newspapers.

The cabinet appealed the ruling in the Court of Appeals, but on July 9, the court sided with the newspapers, refusing to allow the documents from being withheld. More than 40 similarily-redacted cases were released yesterday but the cabinet filed an appeal with the Kentucky Supreme Court. “We disagree on how much personal information about the children and private individuals included in caseworker files should be made public,” Cabinet Secretary Audrey Haynes said.

Also yesterday, Beshear issued an order to create the panel, which will meet four times a year and will issue an annual report that details issues it finds. “When a child dies or is critically injured because of abuse or neglect, we must carefully review the practices of all government entitites involved to make sure that our system performed as it was supposed to — and if not, that review allows us to take disciplinary action,” Beshear said.

Panel members will include law enforcement, prosecutors and medical experts, Musgrave reports. While the meetings will be open to the public, the records consulted during them will not be subject to open records laws. (Read more)

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