The deadly coverup | Arkansas Blog

Monday, September 8, 2008

The deadly coverup

Posted By on Mon, Sep 8, 2008 at 8:27 AM

It turns out I'm not the only person who thinks Gov. Mike Beebe has been derelict in his duties by abetting the state Human Services Department throwing a cloak of secrecy over four foster child deaths and state complicity in a recent near-fatality.

A child advocacy organization is long on record in favor of more disclosure about mistreatment of children. Of course. When they die in secret, who can hear their cries?

Beebe's complicity  is simply shameful. DHS' role is nearly illegally shameful. It has alibied that confidentiality laws prohibit it from talking about the five awful cases this year. But a federal law REQUIRES disclosure of child deaths.

Continue to the jump for a cogent essay on the point that was sent recently to legislators after a national study gave Arkansas a poor grade. The key quote:

While acknowledging states have a responsibility toward confidentiality in many cases involving juveniles, the study’s authors say the lack of openness in cases involving death or serious injuries means child-welfare systems aren’t held accountable for their shortcomings and their abilities to prevent future tragedies are hampered.

"Many states fail to properly reshift the balance between confidentiality and public disclosure … when a child dies or almost dies from maltreatment,” they wrote. “… The current undue emphasis on confidentiality only masks problems inherent in child protection systems. Public exposure is a necessary step toward fixing these problems. Each year, millions of taxpayers dollars go to support child protective services investigations. Accordingly, the public has a right to know if the laws for the protection of children are being followed and its tax dollars well-spent…."

And still the governor stands mute. Perhaps Entergy's lobbyist could get a word with him about this at the next cocktail party they attend.

Arkansas received a passing grade – but just barely – in a national survey of state policies in the release of information about the deaths or serious injuries of abused and neglected children.

Most states scored a mid-range C or worse in a report by First Star, a nonprofit group whose purpose is to help abused and neglected children, and by the University of San Diego School of Law’s Children’s Advocacy Institute. Arkansas scored a C-, better than some states, worse than others….

While acknowledging states have a responsibility toward confidentiality in many cases involving juveniles, the study’s authors say the lack of openness in cases involving death or serious injuries means child-welfare systems aren’t held accountable for their shortcomings and their abilities to prevent future tragedies are hampered.

A federal law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, requires states to “allow for public disclosure” of information on fatal and near-fatal child abuse cases. Many states interpret and enforce that law too narrowly, according to First Star and the other authors of the study.

"Many states fail to properly reshift the balance between confidentiality and public disclosure … when a child dies or almost dies from maltreatment,” they wrote. “… The current undue emphasis on confidentiality only masks problems inherent in child protection systems. Public exposure is a necessary step toward fixing these problems. Each year, millions of taxpayers dollars go to support child protective services investigations. Accordingly, the public has a right to know if the laws for the protection of children are being followed and its tax dollars well-spent….

The report says states should report cause and circumstances of a case, the age and gender of the child, and whether and how a social services agency had been monitoring the family.

The study rated each state based on their policies or laws regarding disclosure, accessibility and scope of the information, and whether court proceedings are open.

Arkansas, like most states, scored highest in having at least a policy, or preferably, a state law addressing the public disclosure of information about abuse and neglect cases that result in a child’s death or near death. Arkansas, like most states, scored only a mediocre grade in narrowly enforcing the federal law and for “being vague and unclear” as to what records must be released.

And, like most states, Arkansas got an “F” in requiring absolute and strict confidentiality in abuse/neglect court proceedings.

A balance between privacy and the right to know can be found, the authors said, adding that necessary changes can be brought only through pressure from the public, media, children’s advocates and lawmakers.

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