Conspiracy of silence

Our view: More public attention is needed in child abuse cases

May 04, 2008

When it comes to releasing information about life-threatening child abuse and neglect cases, Maryland gets a failing grade in a national study by child advocates. Regrettably, it's well-deserved, since repeated efforts to shine more light on these cases have been rebuffed in the General Assembly. The advocates' sensible push for more public disclosure is meant to expose - and correct - child-welfare system failures that may contribute to whatever harm a child may suffer at home. Maryland's abysmal showing should finally spur the legislature to make changes, but state and local child welfare officials should voluntarily be more forthcoming whenever possible.

About 1,500 American children die from abuse or neglect every year, and many more suffer near-fatal injuries. A federal law requires states to allow for public release of information related to those extreme cases, but the study found that most states are getting away with minimum compliance. Maryland fits that bill because its public disclosure law generally applies only in cases where criminal charges have been filed, and officials are given a lot of discretion to withhold information.

But in too many cases, withholding information is meant to protect the agency, not the children. The law needs to strike a better balance between guarding the rights of alleged abusers and protecting future victims. Whenever possible, child welfare officials should release relevant information about serious abuse cases as an important way to improve agency practices.

A conspiracy of silence is no way to protect vulnerable children.

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