Kentucky’s 17-member panel currently reviewing certain child abuse cases will remain a permanent part of state accountability and child advocates say the recently-passed law creating the panel adds more transparency and accountability.
Last year, Gov. Steve Beshear created the 17-member panel through an executive order to improve the systems overseeing child abuse and neglect. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which is involved in many of these cases, has been criticized for lacking transparency and accountability.
The General Assembly has since passed a law, HB 290, which includes giving the panel access to records not being made available to the public.
“This is going to allow panel members to have a much broader canvas to draw from to be able to make investigations and conclusions,” said Kentucky Youth Advocates executive director Terry Brooks, who has been following the law as it’s moved through the General Assembly.
“That panel is not just Louisville, Lexington, northern Kentucky folks but represents all regions of the state. So in a lot of ways the panel is going to look like Kentucky, which is a good thing,” he says.
The bill also requires regular reporting to a legislative committee that will provide oversight to the panel. The committee can make inquiries and call on the Cabinet and other agencies to testify if it chooses. It can also discuss the panel’s findings or recommendations with the Cabinet, says Brooks.
The panel will remain under the Justice Cabinet, despite Brooks and others who have argued the panel should remain independent from the Executive branch of government. Brooks says that may have to be discussed in 2014.
The panel includes both government and non-government appointees.
UPDATE: The Cabinet for Health and Family Services sent the following response to WFPL:
“CHFS supports the work of the review panel and the legislation establishing the board. The panel is made up a multidisciplinary group of individuals who are invested in the safety and welfare of Kentucky’s children, which can only help shape better practices to protect kids and refine the policies of the Department for Community Based Services. We will be working with the panel as they review these cases and will look for every opportunity to reinforce our policies that are working and revise those that are not. ”