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Child Fatalities

State Secrecy Project:  Promoting Open Information When an Abused or Neglected Children Dies

The Institute continues the State Secrecy Report Card series, published with the Children’s Advocacy Institute and University of San Diego, and related activities to promote agency disclosures of information when an abused child dies.  Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (“CAPTA”), child abuse information must generally be confidential.  Confidentiality was imposed for laudable reasons -- mandated reporters need to feel secure in making allegations, children need to be protected from subsequent abuse and families need to be shielded from unwarranted public scrutiny. However, blanket provisions for confidentiality do not always promote the best interests of child victims and their families, and CAPTA recognizes certain exceptions.

 

Despite the exceptions, this confidentiality restriction hinders an assessment, after an abused child dies, as to the actions that may have contributed to the child’s death.  The critically important question as to whether changes in agency actions or protocols should be made cannot be clearly answered absent information.  The State Secrecy Report Card series evaluates state laws on releasing information.  

The factor in prompting changes in public disclosure laws. The 2012 study provides an update on whether states have since strengthened their laws. Eleven states improved their disclosure laws by making them mandatory, more enforceable, more broadly applicable and/or more specific with regard to the types of information to which the public is entitled. Three states passed new laws or adopted new regulations further restricting public access to information resulting in lower grades than they received in 2008. The states reporting the most improvement were Utah and Pennsylvania, which went from grade of F to A and A+ respectively.