Three cornerstones will determine whether House Bill 290 is effective in protecting kids from dying due to abuse and neglect – confidentiality for individuals, transparency, and independence. Today the House took an important step in putting into statute a panel focused on preventing these child deaths by passing House Bill 290.

We thank Representative Burch and Representative Wayne as well as many members of the House Health and Welfare Committee for their hard work to increase confidentiality and transparency. As an example, House Bill 290 takes a critical step by giving panel members complete access to case files so they have full information to help them understand what went wrong and how to prevent similar situations from occurring. It also ensures we will learn from the work accomplished by panel members through a reporting requirement to provide recommendations for system and process improvements that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services can put into action to prevent future child abuse deaths. Finally, it ensures that panel members remain able to make a good faith report to a state or federal agency or the public if they think there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Those are important steps forward and we recognize them as such. The issue of independence remains to be addressed. For the panel to be effective, it must be credible. And for it to have credibility, it needs to be independent. There are a variety of ways to ensure that the public has trust in the panel. As an example, we have advocated that there be a full disclosure of panel members’ employment and financial relationships with the Executive Branch. If the panel is doing the public’s business, then the public has a right to know about those kinds of linkages. Finally, the panel should be housed outside of the Executive Branch. Its current location within the Justice Cabinet means that we are essentially asking the Executive Branch to grade its own work.

House Bill 290 is a strong start for identifying the changes we need to make to prevent future child abuse deaths. We look forward to working with the Senate and the House to ensure the creation of a panel this session marked by confidentiality, transparency and independence.