Child abuse records released, but without names of victims

Though the state on Monday released 85 internal reviews of cases in which children had either been killed or nearly killed from abuse, in many instances it did not release the names of the children who were affected. The reviews also show considerable variability in terms of how thoroughly the investigations were conducted.

The records were handed over by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services after years of litigation and two weeks after Gov. Steve Beshear ordered the release. Twice before, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered the cabinet to turn over the documents to The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader, which had sued the cabinet for failing to provide the records.
But while 353 pages were handed over Monday, the names of at least eight children who died from abuse or neglect had been redacted, along with all the names of children who had been seriously injured, report Bill Estep and Beth Musgrave of the Herald-Leader. “That is totally contrary to the letter and the spirit of the judge’s ruling,” said Robert Houlihan Jr., a lawyer for the Herald-Leader. “Where there has been a fatality, there can be no justification that I see to redact that name of the dead victim.”
The documents show there is a lack of protocol in handling the case reviews. “Some reviews are lengthy and thorough, including an analysis of what social workers could do differently to prevent similar deaths,” Estep and Musgrave report. “But some internal reviews consist of one page that doesn’t even say whether the child died.”
“If children dying does not demand a formalized process, you have to ask yourself, what does?” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. (Read more)
Still, the records do paint some harrowing pictures, with Estep, Musgrave and Valarie Honeycutt Spears reporting Tuesday about one little boy who fell off a deck in Lincoln County while his mother and boyfriend were drunk. “There was no food in the filthy house, but there were pill bottles, beer cans and needles lying around, and blood on the child’s bed,” they write, noting more than half of the internal reviews show there was either involvement or suspected involvement of substance abuse. (Read more)
Regardless, the redacted documents prompted a scathing editorial in The Courier-Journal, saying “the result produced Monday afternoon is unacceptable and flies in the face of the spirit of Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd’s court orders.”
The editorial also questions Beshear and his “belated” attempt to step in. “Whose cabinet is it, anyway?” it reads. “Is the governor saying one thing in public — ‘Our children deserve our protection’ and ‘Transparency will be the new rule’ and ‘It’s time for the balance to tip toward openness’ — and another in private? How else to explain the gulf between what the judge ordered, what the cabinet lawyers said would be released, what the governor said, and what the cabinet produced on Monday? If Gov. Beshear does not approve of the cabinet’s latest obfuscations, he must not only say so, he must act on that disapproval.” (Read more)
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