Sunday, January 22, 2012

Journalists, child-protection officials debate their differing approaches to Ky. child abuse problem

In a state that has led the nation in deaths of children from abuse and neglect, Kentucky journalists and the officials who must protect children agree that more public attention needs to be focused on the issue.

But they don’t agree on how to do it, and have been fighting expensive battles in court over it, because their professions have sharply divergent views on what kind of information the state should have to release.

“The profession of social work is based on confidentiality,” the state’s top child-protection official told reporters, editors and publishers during a panel discussion at the Kentucky Press Association convention in Lexington Friday afternoon.

Confidentiality “was drilled into us just as openness was drilled into you” in professional education, said Teresa James, who became acting commissioner of the Department for Community-Based Services in December after 25 years as a social worker. “Just as passionate as you are about the First Amendment, I am passionate about confidentiality.”

Social workers argue that without being able to assure informants of confidentiality, the system that protects children won’t get some of the information it needs.

But journalists, their employers and their lawyers say the state has been much more secretive than the law allows about cases in which children died or nearly died, circumstances in which state law makes otherwise confidential information available. (Read more)

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