More openness needed for kids’ sake

It would be remiss of us not to praise the passage of a measure that redefines a child’s near death in deciding what records should be released to the public.

In previous comments, we’ve pushed for more openness at the Department of Child Services. Such transparency is desperately needed, not as a finger-pointing exercise but to help make sure that all of us do a better job of keeping kids safe.

The calls for more transparency and a focus on the near deaths of children are taking place on a national level.

According to the chairman of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, new research suggests that studying near-fatal events of child abuse may be important because “near fatalities are similar to fatalities in almost every way we can measure them.”

Senate Bill 131, introduced by state Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, is a step toward more openness when Indiana children are seriously injured.

While Indiana law long has stipulated that DCS records should be made public in the death or near death of a children, it didn’t describe exactly what a “near fatality” is — meaning that those records were in practice never released to the public. Broden, a former DCS attorney, submitted a bill (for the second year in a row) that attempted to offer a definition.

The bill that passed unanimously in both chambers was signed by Gov. Mike Pence last month. It goes into effect July 1.

This is good news. But all that is tempered by the wording in the bill that includes the possibility of a summer study committee to continue the conversation about confidentiality of a child’s medical records in the case of a near fatality. Legislators should not allow this measure to be watered down or compromised.

Transparency is critical and confidentiality meant to protect children actually does harm when it undermines public confidence that Indiana is doing everything it can for the most vulnerable Hoosiers.

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