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Child Fatalities Review Panel Needs Access to More Records

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Members of a new state review panel tasked with overseeing child deaths and near deaths that resulted from abuse will begin their work by examining the cases of eight children who died over the past year.

The group of doctors, judicial experts, and social workers met for the first time Tuesday. The panel was formed by Governor Steve Beshear earlier this year to examine how the Cabinet for Health and Family Services handles child fatalities.

Judge Roger Crittenden, who chairs the panel, says more information may be needed to get a clear understanding of what happened and why.

“That’s the point we’re trying to figure out is what records do we actually need to have? We know what we’re going to get, and that’s what we’re going to look at first, and then from that, do we need police reports? Are they in the record and if they’re not in the record, should they be?”

The eight initial cases are ones where the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) were previously involved with the family. The agency has come under scrutiny for a lack of transparency about child fatalities.

“I think it will also bring a lot of light to probably lots of individuals that are involved and touch these cases prior to the death of a child. And I believe that the department has a tremendous opportunity to look at some areas that we may have some opportunities for improvement,” says Teresa James, Commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, which oversees child abuse cases for CHFS.

Senator Julie Denton of Louisville was disappointed more information was not made available at the meeting. She accused the CHFS of stonewalling the transparency process.

“They knew about this. This was their governor, his administration, that did this. So how could they not be working to get those files? And if they didn’t do so much redaction, we could have those pretty darn quickly.”

Over the past fiscal year the Cabinet received reports of 55 fatalities or near fatalities.

State lawmakers must pass legislation in the upcoming session to establish what records the independent review panel is allowed to obtain.

Lexington native Brenna Angel anchored local morning newscasts for WUKY through May 13. She joined the station in March 2010 after previously working for WHAS-AM in Louisville.