Judge seals child welfare records
A Family Court judge ruled yesterday that releasing prior Child Welfare Service records of a 12-year-old girl found emaciated and unconscious Jan. 7 would "generate additional publicity and potentially be harmful to her."
The Family Court order said, "It would not be in her best interests as she tries to adjust and live a normal and productive life."
Judge Bode Uale ordered the records and files of that 2000 case of the then-5-year-old daughter of Denise and Melvin Wright Jr. remain confidential. In that case the Wrights pleaded no contest to endangering the welfare of a minor.
The Wrights are now facing trial in the attempted murder of their child, who at age 11 on Jan. 7 weighed between 35 and 40 pounds, half the normal weight of a child her age.
The judge cited state law that renders all related records to an ongoing child protective case as confidential to allow a child to heal and thrive in a permanent home different from the parents'.
Lillian Koller, director of the Department of Human Services, said she will request the court to reconsider its decision.
Koller was prepared to release the records Tuesday on the department's Web site, including police reports, police and witness statements, medical records, photographs of the child's bedroom, the lock on the door and of the girl at the time.
Koller said the matter is one of weighing and balancing interests.
"What about all the other children who are going to be impacted in the future if we can't have accountability in the system?" she said.
Koller adopted significant changes in December 2004 to the Child Welfare Services system allowing for exceptions to confidentiality. That allowed the department to release records in the case of Peter Boy Kema, a Big Island boy who had been missing for years.
In the Wright case, the girl's identity and condition have already been publicized by the media, and releasing the information in the 2000 case would not impede her ability to adjust, Koller said.
But "the nagging question everybody is asking is, How come law enforcement and the child welfare system knew about this child having risk back then and didn't prevent it?" she said.