Cabinet files appeal to prevent releasing full child abuse records; Beshear backs decision

On the day the state was supposed to release unadulterated records on deaths and near deaths from child abuse, under a court order, it filed an appeal to stop the process. And though Gov. Steve Beshear had ordered the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release the records, yesterday he sided with its officials, saying in an op-ed piece sent to Kentucky newspapers he did not “think the judge’s order was protective enough” of informants who often want to remain secret, such as relatives, health-care providers, teachers and law-enforcement officials. (Getty Images photo)

“You teach in a small community and suspect a student is being abused,” Beshear wrote. “Can you come forward without the newspaper naming you as the accuser?” Jon Fleischaker, attorney for The Courier-Journal and the Kentucky Press Association, said Beshear was “fear-mongering,” and noted that Shepherd’s order to release records applies only in cases in which children were killed or nearly killed from abuse or neglect, following a state law designed to hold the cabinet accountable for its child protective services.

Beshear wrote, “The cabinet has been accused of ‘operating under a veil of secrecy’ in a supposed attempt to protect inept workers and a poorly designed system. But this is not about shielding the system from scrutiny. We understand the need to be more transparent than in years past.”

In December, the cabinet handed over 353 pages of records, but 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, as well as much other information. The Courier-Journal, the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Todd County Standard had sued the cabinet for refusing to release the records. Twice before, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered the cabinet to turn them over. Last week, Shepherd fined the agency $16,000 for its secretive treatment and delays. He also found the cabinet should pay more than $57,000 in legal fees for the newspapers. (Read more)

Yesterday, the cabinet filed its motion with the state Court of Appeals and “asked the court to block Shepherd’s Jan. 19 order to release records, starting today, with limited redactions,” reports the C-J’s Deborah Yetter. In the meantime, the cabinet released about 90 internal reviews of child deaths and serious injuries incurred by abuse but with deletions it feels is necessary “to protect the best interests of the state’s child welfare system,” its motion read. (Read more)
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