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VOL. 123 | NO. 85 | Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tennessee Improving Release of Child Abuse Information

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Tennessee officials say they're taking steps to improve the release of information about fatal and life-threatening child abuse cases despite a report from two advocacy groups that give the state a failing grade.

First Star and the University of San Diego School of Law's Children's Advocacy Institute, two leading national child advocacy groups, were scheduled to release the report on Tuesday.

Only a handful of states fully comply with the legislative intent of federal law mandating public disclosure of the deaths and near-deaths of abused or neglected children, according to the report.

"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 co-author of the report, said in a news release. "Once we know what is broken, we can try to fix it."

Tennessee was among 10 states that received an "F." But Rob Johnson, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, said the state is "currently working with lawmakers on legislation on how to better release information."

That bill overwhelmingly passed the House 94-1 last week and is progressing in the Senate. It would require DCS to "provide for the public disclosure of information about any case that results in a child fatality or near fatality in compliance with federal law."

Johnson said the department currently follows federal law in regard to releasing information about child fatalities, but doesn't object to the proposed legislation that seeks to tighten the law.

About 1,500 children die each year in the U.S. as a result of child abuse and neglect, and countless others suffer life-threatening injuries, according to the report.

Mary Nell Bryan, president of the Children's Hospital Alliance of Tennessee, said her organization realizes the seriousness of child abuse and supports better reporting.

"The Children's Hospital Alliance of Tennessee and its member hospitals deeply care about the tragic issue of child abuse as an issue of paramount importance," she said. "We support any initiative that attacks this deep-rooted and terribly disturbing problem."

Read the full text of SB3219/HB2469 on the General Assembly's Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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