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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Release child abuse records in Missouri

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Attempts by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration to avoid releasing records involving child abuse incidents are amateurish and deceptive, and must stop.

For months, both the governor’s office and the Department of Social Services have responded to records requests from The Kansas City Star and the Springfield News-Leader with silence, or statements that say nothing, or inexplicable delays.

In other words, stonewalling.

The state did release two sets of records to the Springfield newspaper this week, after months of delay. The Star is still seeking the files on the state’s involvement with LP, a child found locked in a closet last summer, and Lucas Webb, a 4-year-old from Holt who died of child abuse injuries allegedly inflicted by his stepmother in October.

The obfuscation began after the rescue of LP in June. It marks a departure from the openness the Department of Social Services has exhibited in recent years, when it promptly released records on high-profile child death and injury cases to news organizations. That’s as it should be. When a child is harmed, the public deserves to know whether the harm could have been prevented.

It’s possible that legitimate privacy or legal concerns may justify withholding some records, though it’s difficult to see how such a rationale would apply to entire files. But even in those cases, the administration needs to be much more forthright about its thinking.

Republican leaders in Missouri’s legislature are pressuring the administration to release the records. Part of their eagerness is politically motivated, of course. But their stance is correct. As House Speaker Tim Jones and Rep. Jay Barnes, chairman of a government oversight committee, said in a statement: “Missourians deserve a more transparent and responsive government.”

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.


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