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Council votes to disclose some child welfare records

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Nov 13, 2001    

Council votes to disclose some child welfare records

  • D.C. council members narrowly approved the release of records about abused children who die or come close to death, defeating exemptions that would restrict disclosure of some investigative or sensitive information.

The Council of the District of Columbia recently passed a law requiring city agencies to disclose findings and information to the public when abused, neglected and maltreated children either die or come close to death.

The new law authorizes the District mayor and the Child and Family Services Agency director to release findings and information of a child death or life-threatening injury, unless such disclosure would likely endanger the life or physical and emotional well-being of a child.

Some council members hoped to exclude criminal investigation records from the disclosure laws, in addition to requiring a “good-faith effort” by officials to notify persons whose names and records are requested before releasing the findings to the public. Another potential provision would have mandated a six-month buffer between the fatality or near fatality and date of release for the records.

But on Nov. 6, the council voted 7-6 to pass the disclosure law without these three exemptions.

“I think sunshine is one of the best accountability tools we have,” said Kathy Patterson, a council member who co-introduced the legislation and opposed the exemptions voted down by the council.

“We need to improve our services to vulnerable children,” she said. “One way of doing that is to ensure access to records and accountability from officials.”

According to the law, the mayor and family services director can compel disclosure of public records in the possession of any officer or agency that pertain to a child death or near fatality. Records compiled in the investigation, assessment and review of these occurrences can be released as well.

Information contained in government reports about suspected cases of child abuse, neglect or maltreatment is also covered by the law. The names of children and their parents or guardians can be disclosed under the law, as long as the names have previously been disclosed.

(Public Disclosure of Findings and Information in Cases of Child Fatality or Near Fatality Amendment Act of 2001) GR


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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