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DCS child fatality records hearing scheduled

9:40 AM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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By Tony Gonzalez, The Tennessean

A court hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday for a Davidson County judge to consider the request from The Tennessean and a dozen other news organizations to make public Department of Children's Services records on child deaths.

The media coalition filed a lawsuit Dec. 19, alleging that DCS is violating the law by refusing to provide the records of children who died after being brought to the agency's attention. The Tennessean had made requests over a three-month period.

The lawsuit asks that DCS immediately give those records to the court so Chancellor Carol McCoy can review them and redact any confidential information, and for the records to then be opened to the public.

The department and the state attorney general's office have said DCS has already produced all the documents that it can to be consistent with state and federal law.

The state has said agencies that receive federal funding to prevent child abuse are not authorized to release records involving children.

But some other states grant public access to case files.

For example, Arkansas has begun putting detailed information about child deaths online in a searchable public database. In Colorado, the public can access routine fatality reviews that discuss whether department policies or state laws were violated by caseworkers. Child welfare officials in Oklahoma release detailed information about their investigations. And, in Kentucky, a state attorney general's opinion has noted that "full disclosure is often necessary to prevent such tragedies from occurring.''

DCS has not responded in writing to the media coalition's arguments, but it did request that the hearing be pushed back.

In that filing, DCS Inspector General Kimberly Wright said the requested records for 206 fatalities and near-fatalities dating back to 2009 would fill 35 boxes and require more than 1,000 hours to retrieve, copy and ship to the department's Central Office in Nashville.

DCS suggested providing four representative case files for McCoy to review.

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