By Roger Crittenden
It is time to begin opening child abuse and neglect proceedings within the commonwealth’s juvenile and family courts to public view.
Kentucky’s Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, for a second year, has made this recommendation to Kentucky’s legislature. This also marks the second consecutive year Sen. Julie Raque Adams proposed legislation to allow the creation of a small number of presumptively open court pilot sites in Kentucky. The intent of this legislation, as stated in the Panel’s 2015 report, is to promote “transparency, accountability, and systems improvement.”
Sen. Adams’ proposal, Senate Bill 40, through the use of a pilot project, creates a measured and thoughtful approach to identifying and refining best practices and allows the Kentucky Supreme Court to develop appropriate rules before implementation in every affected court. The language in SB 40, as well as the use of a studied pilot approach, will help assure an effective balance of the public’s interest in transparency and protecting the child’s best interest. It is important to note SB 40 excludes all child sexual abuse cases and prohibits the use of recording equipment in juvenile court proceedings.
The panel made the recommendation to allow greater openness of child abuse and neglect court cases only after much study, discussion and review of best practice recommendations. The primary reason for the panel’s recommendation was findings from actual case reviews. The panel has identified missed opportunities for prevention among nearly all agencies — the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, medical and mental health providers, law enforcement and the court system. We believe increased openness within the court system will promote greater public understanding of the impact of child abuse, improve confidence in our court and child welfare system, and promote greater accountability for those agencies responsible for the wellbeing of our children.
It is worthy to note, Kentucky is in the minority of states maintaining the current level of secrecy. Current practice in the commonwealth is also contrary to the recommended policy of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. SB 40 would bring the commonwealth closer to national best practice recommendations.
As Chair of the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, I encourage the General Assembly to enact SB 40.
About the panel: Gov. Steve Beshear created the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel in 2012 to help ensure that state agencies meet the policies and standards expected in cases of child abuse and neglect.
About the author: Retired judge Roger Crittenden was selected as chair of the panel upon its creation. He previously served as both a district court and circuit court judge in Franklin County.