We have previously blogged about the importance of shining light on the tragic deaths and near deaths that occur from child abuse and neglect. Now, it is time for CAI to dig deeper in our work measuring how states comply with the federal mandate found in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (“CAPTA”) to “allow for public disclosure of the findings or information about the case of child abuse or neglect which has resulted in a child fatality or near fatality.” (42 U.S.C. § 5106a(b)(2)(A)(x).)
Since 2008, CAI, together with First Star, has graded each state on its policies regarding the public disclosure of information when abuse and neglect plays a role in the child’s death or near death. Our most recent report showed some positive results. Thirty states plus the District of Columbia received a B- or higher when graded on the enforceable language of their state policies. At least ten states meaningfully improved their policies between the releases of our two reports. Given these improvements, CAI and First Star decided it was time to start looking at how these policies work when implemented.
We have set out to request information regarding fatalities and near fatalities that occur due to child abuse and neglect from all states that received a B- or higher. In theory, or at least, on the books, these states have policies that should provide for the easy release of pertinent information that can help lead to the systemic reform needed to improve the child welfare systems in these states. Unfortunately, we are finding that merely having good policies on the books does not, necessarily, correlate with releasing adequate information in a timely manner.
Retrieving pertinent and relevant information from these thirty states and the District of Columbia has proven to be an incredibly arduous task. In each case, we, who have studied and worked on this issue for more than 5 years, sent letters quoting the individual state’s policy to the individual we believed most appropriate to answer our request. While a few states responded with great information in a fairly timely manner, such a response has by no means been standard. Often, our request for information is countered with a demand for payment in order to receive the documents – payment which has sometimes proven cost-prohibitive for our advocacy institution and which makes the idea of true public availability of the information merely a pipe dream. We’ve also received several responses indicating that the state is not required to release information regarding fatalities or near fatalities due to child abuse and neglect – a response that is surprising given that with each request we quoted the state policy that requires the release of such information. Responses indicating it will take several months for the requested documents to be released are also not uncommon. And, of course, these are what we’ve heard back from the states that actually responded. Several states have not replied to our request for information at all.
This disappointing response is what we are receiving from states that we have deemed to have fairly good policies regarding the release of information. What about those twenty states that received a C, D or F?
This lack of information is particularly troubling given that there is a federal law requiring the release of information about child abuse and neglect that has led to a fatality or near fatality —information that can lead to changes in policy that will save the lives of children in the future. CAI and First Star will continue our work to demand information that can be used to save the lives of children be appropriately released to the public in a timely manner. We will be using the information we gather through our inquiry to publish a report regarding how states are doing on the implementation of their public disclosure policies regarding information of fatal or near fatal child abuse or neglect, and we will continue our advocacy on the state and federal levels to improve laws regarding disclosure and to improve the implementation of those laws. If you also see this as a concern, I encourage you to demand that your representatives adequately enforce the federal policy regarding disclosure of information about child abuse and neglect that has led to a death or near death and any state policies that have been put in place to implement this CAPTA requirement.
Author: Christina Riehl, Senior Staff Attorney at CAI