Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) yesterday submitted comments strongly opposing this change. ACNJ argued that, rather than limiting information about these tragic cases, the state should release more information.
“The goal is not to place blame, but to learn from these terrible tragedies in a public and transparent way,” said Mary Coogan, ACNJ assistant director. “Looking closely at the state’s actions or inactions in these cases can help improve the safety of children across New Jersey.”
In proposing the change to state rules that govern the release of information in child fatalities or near fatalities, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families maintains that the change is needed to comply with federal law.
The federal law, however, is intended to encourage the release of information about child fatality cases to help states improve their child protection systems and as way to make these agencies publicly accountable. In all other child abuse cases that do not result in a child’s death or near death, information about the state’s involvement with the child and family is kept confidential.
“The proposed regulations leave it up to the Department of Children and Families to decide what information is pertinent,” Coogan explained. “The agency whose actions are being reviewed should not be given the authority to subjectively determine what information is pertinent.”
Rather than limiting information, ACNJ urged the department to clarify the rules to identify more specifically the relevant information that must be released, including more details about the child abuse investigations, services provided to families and visits with family members, among other critical information about the way the state handled the case.
“We recognize that even when all procedures are appropriately followed, children can still be seriously harmed,” Coogan added. “Still, it is critical that the state’s actions be subject to public scrutiny to strengthen accountability and to better protect our children.”