Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Press Gains Access to DCS Child Fatality Records

English: Office of The Tennessean newspaper in...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In The Tennessean et al. v. Tennessee Department of Children Services (Case No. 12-1769-II), Tennessee Chancery District Court Judge Carol L. McCoy last week ordered redacted child fatality records of youth under state care released to media organizations.

Following her review of four DCS reports involving child fatalities, Judge McCoy ruled the files at issue be released to the news media within 10 days, omitting the names of the decedents, their families, DCS staffers who handled the cases and the individuals who reported the alleged abuse. Judge McCoy said the public's interest in learning about the deaths exceeded concerns in keeping the information confidential, notwithstanding state and federal measures favoring nondisclosure.  More than a dozen media outlets, including The Tennessean, filed a petition in court against the DCS last December when the agency declined to produce the child fatality reports, arguing that the information was subject to disclosure under Tennessee's Public Records Law [Tenn. Code Ann. 10-7-101 et seq.] and that it was crucial that the public be informed about how the state handled fatalities of children under its care.

Judge McCoy's ruling permits the DCS to consider the cost of redacting and processing the remainder of the 206 child fatality reports dating back to 2009, beyond the four files she reviewed, so that media outlets could elect to pay those costs.

Tip of the hat to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (www.rcfp.org) for drawing attention to this decision.
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