Kentucky Newspapers Fighting for Release of Unedited Child Abuse Records

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Earlier this week, The Lexington Herald-Leader and the Louisville Courier-Journal filed separate motions in an attempt to get the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release full case files involving child deaths and near-deaths as a result of abuse or neglect.

The motions came following the cabinet’s release of more than 300 pages of heavily edited internal reviews on Monday. The redacted files omitted or censored the names of not only children that were killed or injured, but in some instances, the names of suspects and counties in which the abuses occurred.

Wednesday, the Louisville Courier-Journal filed a motion in the Franklin Circuit Court requesting that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services be held in contempt for editing the files. That same day, the Lexington Herald-Leader asked Judge Phillip Shepherd to make the cabinet produced unabridged copies of social worker reviews from 2009 and 2010.

Last month, Shepherd ordered the cabinet to release more than 150 full case files related to instances of fatal or near-fatal child abuse reports. Over the last two years, Kentucky’s largest newspapers have pushed for the release of the case files as public records. In that timeframe, Judge Shepherd has ruled twice that child protection records are no longer private in cases where a child dies or sustains nearly fatal injuries stemming from abuse or neglect.

“There is never any justifiable basis for redacting the names of child fatality victims,” said Kif Skidmore, a lawyer for the Lexington Herald-Leader in the newspaper’s court filing.

In a statement released Wednesday, Kentucky’s chapter of the National Association of Social Workers said that “the names of children is [sic] irrelevant; all we need to know is that the abuse either caused serious harm or death.”

Attorneys for the cabinet have filed a motion asking Shepherd to allow further editing of the 180 case files the organization must now turn over.

A hearing for the case is scheduled to take place Dec. 21.





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