Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sometimes, secrecy isn't best for children

I’m a long-term supporter of child protective services, but the culture of total secrecy in that area of state government can be dangerous

MAR 3, 2012

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By Jeb Bladine
Of the News-Register

All WhatchamaColumns

I’m a long-term supporter of child protective services, but the culture of total secrecy in that area of state government can be dangerous to children and families.

I formed my opinions during 10-plus years on the state’s (formerly named) Children’s Services Division advisory committee, 20-plus years on the board of a residential youth care center and 40-plus years of newspaper reporting on child abuse cases. That’s a lot of secondhand experience with unspeakable human depravity that demands state intervention on behalf of children.

Still, mistakes by the state that occur within a cocoon of confidentiality can serve to protect the government at the expense of children and family. Such mistakes span the gamut from over- to under-zealousness.

Confidentiality is understandable as part of the protection for abused children. There are times, however, when that shroud of secrecy protects the wrong people.

Twenty-five years ago, the late Father Pascal Phillips of the Trappist Abbey led a statewide group that challenged CSD’s total power to take children from their families. Then, and today, media generally avoids reporting on alleged abuses of power by child protective workers because the state stonewalls any effort to get the agency’s side of the story.

When state workers are under-zealous, the results can be dramatic and very public. For example, this week the state agreed to pay $1.5 million to the biological father of a 15-year-old girl murdered by abuse after the state caseworkers allegedly failed to respond “with reasonable care” to her family situation.

Back to the other side of things, there’s a case drawing local exposure to a family’s claim that Child Protective Services has taken their baby away without just cause. The bare basics of that case appear in a letter and accompanying note in today’s Readers Forum, and more coverage could follow after an upcoming court hearing.

I’m not willing to take sides in this kind of case in the absence of any information from one of the sides, but I can criticize the absolute secrecy that exists in the face of such claims. I’ve long thought that families in this situation should have the right to request disclosure of the public record surrounding their exposure to this part of our justice system.

Protecting children is an essential state role. Sometimes, though, parents should have the right to a public airing of the process.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

http://newsregister.com/article?articleTitle=sometimes%2c+secrecy+isn%27t+best+for+children--1330726709--2846--bladine