More than 700 reports concerning the deaths of children in the Child Protective Services system in New York have been withheld from the public in the past 10 years, and that practice needs to stop.
The Times Union of Albany recently reported that although the state Office of Children and Family Services is required to examine whether CPS workers followed all the proper practices in investigating reports of abuse that precede a fatality, that information is routinely kept secret under a provision allowing OCFS to protect the “best interests” of surviving siblings from further trauma.
It turns out, however, that withholding these records can also help protect counties from lawsuits by hiding the facts of cases in which CPS employees might arguably share some of the blame for the tragedy.
The TU said the OCFS didn’t explain why it couldn’t simply redact sensitive information about siblings and still report what CPS workers did or did not do in any particular case. There are ways to protect privacy of children and families but still provide the public with accountability for how the CPS system is doing its job. With this policy of basically sealing entire files by default, that’s impossible to do.
If people are doing their jobs the best they can, fine. But with so many hundreds of investigations being kept private, we have to wonder if counties are going out of their way to cover their own assets. And if the system designed to protect children isn’t working as well as it can, people deserve to become aware of any flaws that might be corrected through better oversight.