Kentucky opens child fatality records

Kentucky is opening the records of cases in which child abuse or neglect resulted in a fatality or near fatality. According to a directive from Governor Steve Beshear, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) can redact personal identifying information, but, the the records of these incidents must be made public. The Governor is also calling for reforms in the laws governing how CHFS handles these records.

Beshear offered a four step plan to address how this information should be handled and called on legislators to make his recommendations law. “My decision to open these records will allow the review of that information to further the health and safety of our children, increase the accountability of the Cabinet and improve our operations and practices going forward,” Gov. Beshear said. “Transparency will be the rule.”

Rules governing this type of information vary widely from state to state. Each state has its own set of requirements in terms of how to handle sensitive data such as social security numbers, individuals who offer tips and the names of families and children involved in these cases. The Governor held an internal review of statutes from all 50 states and is using that information as part of his reform proposal. The Governor has also directed the legislature to call a range of hearings on the issue to learn more about how this information is handled throughout the state.

“The current Kentucky laws are broad and unclear, and the Cabinet has worked very hard to stay within the bounds of those rules,” Gov. Beshear said in a statement. “But the time has come for the legislature to clarify what information should be public and what information needs to remain confidential for the safety of the child.”

This is the third time Beshear has proposed rule changes in this area. The previous two attempts failed to make it out of legislative committee. The Governor wants to increase the overall accountability of CHFS through transparency. The Governor also ordered a comprehensive Cabinet level review of current procedures to identify any issues or gaps. Kentucky is one of only seven states to have accreditation from the Council on Accreditation, a national, independent, non-profit service focused on best practices for protective services.
“The death of any child is one too many, which is why it’s imperative state government do all it can to protect our vulnerable children,” said Gov. Beshear. “We have reviewed our laws alongside the laws of all other states regarding information released in these terrible situations.  Everyone’s ultimate goal is to protect children, and my directives today are part of a comprehensive plan to strengthen our system.”