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Judge orders disclosure of some DCS records

Judge orders disclosure of some DCS records
Associated Press
NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services must provide to the public records of children who died or nearly died after the agency investigated reports they had been abused or neglected, a Nashville judge ruled Wednesday.
Chancellor Carol McCoy gave the department 10 days to redact confidential information from documents that serve as summaries for four specific cases. The records then must be turned over to 12 news media organizations that sued under Tennessee’s public records law. The media coalition was led by The Tennessean and included The Associated Press.
In ordering the disclosure of the redacted files, McCoy said she had to weigh competing priorities of protecting the privacy of abused children versus holding the state accountable when a child dies.
McCoy determined that a child’s right to privacy is diminished after the child dies and the more important concern becomes what the state did or did not do to try to prevent the death. Attorneys for the state had argued that DCS — which initially revealed only one line of information on the cases of 151 children who died and 55 who suffered near fatal injuries since 2009 — was prohibited by state law from releasing its records.
McCoy found that while the law does protect the privacy of children and families involved with DCS, the agency’s records relating to deaths and near fatalities are subject to the public records law.
She directed DCS to file with the court an estimate of how long it will take to redact the confidential information from the summaries of the more than 200 other requested files and the costs involved.
A statement from Gov. Bill Haslam says the department will comply with the order. Haslam’s statement emphasizes that the names of children and families receiving services and of those reporting abuse will remain confidential.
The Tennessean in September requested records from DCS for all child fatalities and near-fatalities that occurred between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2012.
Published in The Messenger 1.24.13