Hawaii gets passing grade for access to child-abuse data
Hawaii releases more information about fatal and life-threatening child abuse and neglect cases than 28 other states, but more transparency is needed to ensure children are being protected, according to a national report.
CHILD ABUSE INFORMATION|
A report from the child advocacy group First Star analyzed whether states release adequate information about fatal and life-threatening child abuse and neglect cases. The group gave Hawaii a B- grade, ranking it below 13 states.
A: Nevada, New Hampshire
A-: California, Indiana, Iowa, Oregon
B+: Florida, Illinois, New York
B: Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Washington
B-: Hawaii, Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, West Virginia
Source: "State Secrecy and Child Deaths in the U.S."
Hawaii officials challenged the findings by First Star, a child advocacy group, and the University of San Diego School of Law's Children's Advocacy Institute, saying Hawaii promotes openness and continues to improve public access to child maltreatment documents.
Hawaii, which got a B- in the report, received high marks for a policy on information disclosure and for making files easy to find, but it was faulted for leaving out portions of records in some near-death cases and for seeking closed court proceedings.
The child advocacy groups surveyed the states about three years ago. Hawaii, eight other states and the District of Columbia earned a B- grade, placing them above 28 states in the report.
John Walters, program development administrator for child welfare services with the state Department of Human Services, said information is withheld or redacted from case files only after a careful review to prevent further harm to victims, and courts keep hearings private for the same reason.
"I don't think that people should be just going in to Family Court and looking at these cases willy-nilly," he said.
Human Services Department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said the agency has posted thousands of documents online. Among them are the cases of Peter Boy Kema Jr., a long-missing Big Island child who, according to files, lived with brutal abuse and neglect at the hands of his parents, as well as Cyrus Belt, a 23-month-old boy thrown to his death from an H-1 freeway overpass in January.
Hawaii also had one of the nation's lowest rates of recurring child abuse or neglect in fiscal year 2007 at 2.2 percent, below the nationally accepted standard of 6.1 percent, officials said.
But only six states -- Nevada, New Hampshire, California, Indiana, Iowa and Oregon -- earned top grades for releasing enough information for evaluations that could potentially lead to reforms in the child protection systems, according to the study.
The report, noting some 1,500 children die from abuse and neglect each year in the United States, said all states get federal funding under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, but few comply with its requirement to disclose information.
"When abuse or neglect lead to a child's death or near death, a state's interest in confidentiality becomes secondary to the interests of taxpayers, advocates and other children, who would be better served by maximum transparency," Amy Harfeld, First Star's executive director and a co-author of the report, said in a statement. "Once we know what is broken, we can try to fix it."
The study highlighted a Massachusetts case in 2005 involving Haleigh Poutre, then 11, who was allegedly beaten into coma by her foster parents after the local Department of Social Services had dismissed at least 14 separate reports of prior suspected abuse.