By Tony Gonzalez | The Tennessean
More information about the deaths of children who were known to the Tennessee Department of Children's Services must be made public, Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy ruled in an order filed today.
The judge ruled that DCS must release more information about the causes and circumstances of child deaths, information that describes the department's prior involvements with children, results of prior contacts and services to the children who later died.
"DCS has a statutory duty to provide the non-confidential information as an essential function and integral part of its routine duties," McCoy wrote in a 27-page order.
The judge ordered DCS to provide redacted "referral forms" from four cases within 10 days, at which time, the department must provide an estimate as to the time and cost required to produce similar information on more than 200 other fatalities and near-fatalities.
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed Dec. 19 by The Tennessean and a coalition of a dozen other news organizations alleging that DCS violated the law by refusing to provide the records of children who died after being brought to the agency's attention.
McCoy reviewed four DCS case files after a Jan. 8 hearing.
In her ruling, McCoy wrote that when a child dies, the department's "efforts or lack thereof become a key concern."
McCoy ordered identifying information to be redacted from records, including the names of hospitals and schools.
The Tennessean made requests over a three-month period for information about 31 children who died in the first half of 2012 -- and regarding 206 children involved in fatal and near-fatal incidents dating back to 2009.
The department, in written responses and in court, has argued that spreadsheets and one-line summaries of incidents given to The Tennessean were the only kinds of information allowed to be disclosed by state and federal laws.
This is a developing story, check the Tennessean for the latest information.