avoid “hinder[ing] the criminal justice process.”14 This refusal to provide information seemed
contrary to more than a decade of policy implementation since the passage of the Missouri
disclosure law in 2000.
The Missouri disclosure law was passed in 2000 in response to the torture and death of
two brothers.15 Records from the Missouri Division of Family Services indicated that social
workers believed the boys were being abused, but failed to recommend removal from the home.16
The state legislature passed the dislcosure law, granting sole discretion to the Director of DSS to
release information following the death or serious injury of a child.17 Missouri newspapers’
request for records revealed that DSS released records in a majority of the twenty-two cases that
prompted media records requests filed between 2009 and 2012.18 All of these records were
released prior to the trials of or pleadings by the suspects.19 The result of this records audit
indicates that the reticence DSS showed in disclosing records in L.P.’s case is a new
In the nearly fifteen years since the Missouri disclosure law was passed, states have
continued to struggle in an attempt to balance accountability with protecting the privacy of
children and families in these tragic situations. In 2008, the Children's Advocacy Institute
(“CAI”) issued a report calling for changes to state disclosure laws in fatal or near-fatal child
abuse cases.20 In 2010, the U.S. Senate noted that not all states were in compliance with federal
disclosure requirements and directed the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) to
create national guidelines.21 Although HHS has yet to issue any guiding documents, CAI
reported in 2012 that more than twenty states had made changes to the disclosure policies
surrounding child abuse cases that resulted in fatalities or serious injury.22
States, however, and particularly the state-level agencies responsible for child welfare,
are wary of the threat to privacy involved in releasing sensitive information from child abuse case
reports. The concern over the correct balance of disclosure of information and confidentiality is
so great that the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
threatened the state of Oklahoma with the loss of federal funding based on a claim that the state
was disclosing too much information about child abuse cases resulting in fatalities.23 Although
the Children’s Bureau eventually rescinded the threat,24 even the threat of losing funding for
disclosing too much information underscores the tension between disclosure and confidentiality,
accountability and privacy.
This Article details the balance federal and state governments have attempted to strike
between the public’s right to access child abuse information to hold child welfare agencies
accountable, and maintaining confidentiality to preserve children’s and families’ right to privacy.
15 MO. ANN. STAT. § 210. 150 (West 2014); Bauer & Thomas, Missouri Agency, supra note 12.
16 'Multiple Personality' Mother Guilty of Murder, ABC NEWS (Oct. 21, 2000), http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95299&page=1.
17 Bauer & Thomas, Missouri Agency, supra note 12.
18 Laura Bauer and Judy L. Thomas, Missouri Falls Silent in Children’s Deaths, Declining to Release Records, KAN. CITY STAR (Mar.
17, 2013), http://www.kansascity.com/2013/03/16/4126231/missouri-falls-silent-in-childrens.html.
20 CHILDREN'S ADVOCACY INST. & FIRST STAR, STATE SECRECY AND CHILD DEATHS IN THE U.S. iii (2008),
21 CHILDREN'S ADVOCACY INST. & FIRST STAR, STATE SECRECY AND CHILD DEATHS IN THE U.S. 6 (2d ed. 2012),
22 Id. at 7.
23 Randy Ellis, Public's Future Access to Child Abuse Information Is Unclear, OKLAHOMAN (June 1, 2012),
24 Ginnie Graham, Feds Nix Threat to Withdraw DHS Funds, TULSA WORLD (June 21, 2012),