Opening welfare files to police could help protect children
A proposal to open confidential child welfare records to police officers is being considered.
Broader cooperation between police and the state's social service agency could help protect children whose living situations put them at risk.
A proposal that confidential child welfare records be made available to police is being considered in the wake of the death of Cyrus Belt, who was thrown off a freeway overpass last week.
As long as measures are taken to address privacy concerns, sharing data might be useful in safeguarding children as well as getting their families assistance they need.
Shortly before the terrible incident, a police officer had found the 23-month-old boy wandering on the street near his home. The thought is that had the officer known of the boy's family problems, he might have taken different action instead of returning the child home. Even so, it was a non-family member who is alleged to have committed the crime.
Conjecture aside, such information would aid police officers in dealing with circumstances where previous incidents could indicate child endangerment.
Though police officials appear willing to discuss the idea, questions remain about whether officers will be able to judge a situation correctly. No doubt they will need additional training to make assessments.
However, having information about previous neglect, violence and substance abuse would certainly alert officers to the potential for further risk. In addition to sharing records, the state Department of Human Services should make its employees immediately available to help officers while they are at the scene.
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