Police get state files to help protect kids
The state will release child welfare records to the counties to help protect kids at risk
» Hundreds of mourners bid aloha to slain toddler
» Accused killer Higa could face life term without parole
STORY SUMMARY »
While family and other mourners attended funeral services for slain toddler Cyrus Belt last night, the state pledged to give police access to confidential information that will help protect at-risk children in the future.
The state Department of Human Services will open its internal child welfare records to the county police departments, according to an announcement by Director Lillian Koller.
"We will never know if sharing our confidential files could have saved the life of Cyrus, but heightened communication between first responders and DHS staff can certainly prevent future tragedies," Koller said.
About an hour before the 23-month-old child was thrown from a freeway overpass Jan. 17, he was found wandering in his Makiki neighborhood. A police officer returned the child to the family apartment. A neighbor has been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly throwing the child from a nearby freeway overpass.
Also in the aftermath of the death, the state Department of Transportation continues to monitor the potential traffic hazard caused by a roadside memorial near the Miller Street overpass. A spokesman said workers will begin to move some of the balloons, flowers, toys and signs left by mourners and will eventually clear the site.
FULL STORY »
The state will open its child welfare records to police in a move sparked by the Jan. 17 death of 23-month-old Cyrus Belt.
Formerly confidential files on neglect, violence and substance abuse within families will be shared with the goal of protecting vulnerable children in the future, according to the announcement yesterday by the state Department of Human Services.
Department Director Lillian Koller said Belt's death "dramatically underscored the importance of protecting our children from harm."
"By creating a closer working relationship between our state agency and the county police departments, we can collectively make better informed decisions about whether to place a child in emergency foster care," said Koller in a news release.
Koller also announced other initiatives intended to protect at-risk children. She offered to provide computers, software and training for police officers to aid in risk assessments when they encounter possible cases of child abuse or neglect.
The administration has also proposed a law that would add family members to the list of medical personnel, teachers and others required to report known child abuse or neglect.
In response to a child neglect case last year, that bill and another were drafted to allow follow-up visits to homes even after child abuse or neglect reports were not confirmed. The parents of a 12-year-old girl who nearly died of starvation were charged with attempted murder in the case.
"We will never know if sharing our confidential files could have saved the life of Cyrus, but heightened communication between first responders and DHS staff can certainly prevent future tragedies," Koller said in the release.
A police officer found Belt wandering in his Makiki neighborhood about an hour before his death and returned the child to the family apartment. A neighbor, Matthew Higa, has been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly throwing the child from a freeway overpass.
Koller said earlier that if police had reported the incident, welfare officials would have immediately responded because of the family record. Child Welfare Services was scheduled to make a home inspection to the Iolani Avenue apartment because of a report that Belt's mother had tested positive for crystal methamphetamine on a Jan. 11 visit to the Queen's Medical Center emergency room.
The Department of Human Services released information earlier about the history of drug use by the child's adult caregivers and investigations into neglect involving the child and a sibling.
A Honolulu Police Department spokesman said it is possible that release of the child welfare information would require a change in the law.
"The security on that information has been very tight in the past," said police Capt. Frank Fujii.
"We support anything that will ensure the safety of the community," the police spokesman said. "We continue to work to facilitate better communication."