Six of 41 child-abuse fatalities show improper follow-up by Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Herald-Leader analysis finds

The way child-abuse deaths are reviewed in Kentucky continues to be problematic. Looking at the 41 child fatalities in 2009 and 2010, Lexington Herald-Leader reporters Beth Musgrave and Bill Estep found at least six cases in which the Cabinet for Health and Family Services “did not do an internal review even though there were previous reports involving the family before the child died.”

State law requires the cabinet to conduct such a review when a child dies or nearly dies because of abuse or neglect and the cabinet had prior involvement with the family.

That didn’t happen in the case of 2-year-old Derek Cooper, whose father placed his hands over the crying boy’s mouth “until the child was silent,” a state report said. Cooper’s father, Brandon Fraley, had had contact with the cabinet when he was a child himself, and in 2006 there was an allegation of domestic violence against him, Musgrave and Estep report. Cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said the cabinet doesn’t do internal reviews when the contact with the cabinet occurred when the alleged abuser was a child, but Midkiff “provided no explanation about why the 2006 domestic violence investigation of Fraley didn’t trigger an internal review,” the newspaper reports.

The analysis also showed vast differences in the way internal reviews are conducted in different parts of the state. “Some of the reviews appeared to be thorough, but in others, child-protection workers produced only one-page reports with little detail on what happened to the children and no assessment of potential improvements,” Musgrave and Estep report.

“The cabinet for so long has hidden everything it could,” said state Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, who tried earlier this year to pass a bill that would create an external child-fatality review panel. Gov. Steve Beshear has issued an order to create such a panel, whose members will review cases and make recommendations. The panel will not have cabinet staff as members.

Westrom’s bill got hung up partly over the cabinet’s attempt to impose further restrictions on the sort of information it is required to make public. The newspaper’s analysis the result of a long fight the Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal have waged to make the child-abuse documentation available to the public. C-J lawyer Jon Fleischaker said on KET yesterday that the cabinet continues to redact more information that it should, in an effort to protect its own interests. The fight continues in the appellate courts. (Read more)

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