Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Abused Children Dying Under Shroud of State Secrecy

Report Shows Most States Fail to Release Information Critical to
Exposing and Resolving Systemic Problems in Child Abuse Prevention
Systems

Two National Child Advocacy Groups and Congressional Leaders Advocate
for Greater Transparency

WASHINGTON, April 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --

The majority of U.S. states fail to release adequate information about fatal and life-
threatening child abuse cases, adhering to misguided and secretive
policies that place confidentiality above the welfare of children and
prevent public scrutiny that would lead to systemic reforms,
according to a report released today by First Star and the University
of San Diego School of Law's Children's Advocacy Institute (CAI), two
leading national child advocacy groups.

Only a handful of states fully comply with the legislative intent of
federal law mandating public disclosure of the deaths and near deaths
of abused or neglected children, according to the report, entitled
State Secrecy and Child Deaths in the U.S. The report's authors argue
that states withhold critical information that would hold child
welfare systems accountable and avert future tragedies. First Star
and CAI released their findings at a Capitol Hill briefing today.

The report issues letter grades from "A" to "F" based on an analysis
of the child death and near death disclosure laws and policies of all
50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Only six states --
Nevada, New Hampshire, California, Indiana, Iowa and Oregon --
receive top grades of "A" or "A-." Twenty-eight states receive a "C+"
or lower grade. Ten states flunked entirely: Georgia, Maryland,
Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota,
Tennessee, Utah and Vermont received a grade of "F" (see attached
chart).

"When abuse or neglect lead to a child's death or near death, a
state's interest in confidentiality becomes secondary to the
interests of taxpayers, advocates and other children, who would be
better served by maximum transparency," said Amy Harfeld, First
Star's Executive Director and a co-author of the report. "Once we
know what is broken, we can try to fix it."

Approximately 1,500 children die each year in the U.S. as a result of
child abuse and neglect. Countless more suffer life-threatening
injuries. First Star and CAI are calling on Congress and individual
state Legislatures to adopt stronger policies and laws that demand
closer examination of the handling of child abuse cases that result
in child deaths or near deaths.

"The current emphasis on confidentiality only masks the problems
inherent in child protection systems," said Robert C. Fellmeth, CAI
Executive Director and Price Professor of Public Interest Law at the
USD School of Law. "Public exposure is a critical step toward fixing
these problems."

All 50 states and the District of Columbia accept federal funds under
the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). To be eligible
for funding, states are supposed to have provisions that "allow for
public disclosure of the findings or information about" abuse or
neglect cases that result in child death or life-threatening
injuries. But few states adequately comply, in part because the
public disclosure requirement in CAPTA leaves too much room for
interpretation.

The Report highlights Massachusetts as an example of a state in need
of reform. In Massachusetts in 2005, Haleigh Poutre, then 11, was
allegedly beaten into a coma by her foster parents. The Department of
Social Services had received and dismissed at least 14 separate
reports of prior suspected abuse.

First Star and CAI are pushing for changes in state and federal laws,
including:

-- Clarified language in federal law (CAPTA). CAI and First Star
acknowledge that the public disclosure mandate as written in
federal law is vague and leaves too much room for interpretation. They
support changes that would clarify and strengthen disclosure
requirements so states know how to comply with the intent of the legislation.

-- Amendments to state policies and laws. To make disclosure
policies more enforceable, the advocacy groups want state Legislatures to
more clearly articulate and strengthen their policies and modify
their statutes to require maximum transparency in cases of death and
near death caused by abuse or neglect.

-- Separating disclosures from criminal proceedings. Currently,
some states, such as Minnesota and North Carolina, will not release
information about a child fatality or near fatality unless a
person is criminally charged. Disclosures should not be dependent on a
district attorney's decision to prosecute.

"Child abuse deaths and near deaths reflect the system's worst
failures," said CAI's Emily Reinig, the report's chief
author. "Unfortunately, it is often only through such cases that
lawmakers and the public learn of systemic inadequacies in child
welfare systems. Until state laws require the regular release of
accurate and unfiltered information, an informed public discussion
cannot occur. Public access to the facts will protect children and
save lives."

About First Star

First Star is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated
to strengthening the rights and improving the lives of America's
abused and neglected children through education, public policy,
legislative reform, and litigation. www.firststar.org

About The Children's Advocacy Institute

The Children's Advocacy Institute, of the University of San Diego
School of Law, works to improve the health, safety, and well being of
children. In addition to its academic component, CAI engages in regulatory and
legislative advocacy, impact litigation and public education in order to ensure
that children's interests are represented effectively whenever and wherever
government makes policy and budget decisions that will impact them.
www.caichildlaw.org

GRADES,At a Glance

Jurisdiction Grade Jurisdiction Grade

Alabama B-

Missouri B-

Alaska C

Montana F

Arizona B

Nebraska C+

Arkansas C-

Nevada A
California A-

New Hampshire A

Colorado D

New Jersey B-

Connecticut B-

New Mexico F

Delaware C

New York B+

District of Columbia B-

North Carolina C

Florida B+

North Dakota F

Georgia F

Ohio C+

Hawaii B-

Oklahoma C+

Idaho B-

Oregon A-

Illinois B+

Pennsylvania F

Indiana A-

Rhode Island C-

Iowa A-

South Carolina C

Kansas B

South Dakota F

Kentucky C-

Tennessee F

Louisiana C-

Texas C+

Maine D+

Utah F

Maryland F

Vermont F

Massachusetts D-

Virginia C-

Michigan B-

Washington B

Minnesota B

West Virginia B-

Mississippi B-

Wisconsin D

Wyoming D+

NEWS CONFERENCE CALL TODAY AT 3 PM IN WASHINGTON, DC

Media dial-in number: 888-398-1687

PARTICIPANT PASSCODE: 5198644

Website: http://www.firststar.org/

Website: http://www.caichildlaw.org/

Original Article -

http://sev.prnewswire.com/education/20080429/CLTU01129042008-1.html

2 comments:

Stitchwitch D said...

What interest does the state have in confidentiality other than being able to keep their blunders secret?

I'm against confidentiality in general. It's supposed to somehow protect the children from public humiliation, maybe the parents too (the only time when anyone seems to care about the rights of a parent accused of abuse). Of course, the other kids in school and the neighbor kids will notice that a child suddenly is living in a different house and has different parents. The neighbors see the kids being taken away, the mailman sees the endless stream of paperwork from CPS, the cashiers at the grocery store notice that the mom doesn't have her kids with her and isn't buying diapers anymore, and in a small town, rumors move at the speed of light, and get embroidered with speculation, so instead of just knowing that the kids were taken because the house was a dangerous mess, they'll wonder if the kids were molested.

Confidentiality doesn't protect families who live in the real world where you are surrounded by people who can see you. It just protects CPS workers from being accountable for their actions.

Barb said...

I believe that a good part of the problem is CPS themselves. They are a clueless organization that doesn't know what they are doing. How can they protect the kids they are taking into their custody if their right hand doesn't know what the left is doing.

Watch the YouTube videos called Innocence Destroyed (3 parts) and you will be convinced that CPS is totally clueless.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48YF1uEuCUA&feature=related