information to may not be representative of the amount and quality of information reaching those
parties, as state agencies can withhold records in violation of the laws.
The state laws allow disclosure to certain individuals, often at the discretion of the
agency. The laws also give discretion to the agencies as to what information is released. These
limitations sometimes restrict information to what is necessary for the requestor to provide
services to the child or otherwise in the “best interest” of the child. Restrictions on access, based
on necessity rather than the identity of the requestor, allow the agencies to provide services and
protect the privacy of the children in its care.
Additionally, states may withhold records from individuals that are statutorily recognized
as authorized recipients. The state agency in Kentucky withheld records from the media when the
state statute clearly allowed for such access in the case of child fatalities. 215 In Missouri,
journalists were denied the records related to the near fatality of L.P., despite clear provisions for
such access. 216 The issue of such denials for access could be addressed through the current
citizen review panels. 217 In addition to reviewing various processes for investigation and
placement, the panels should review the disposition of requests for access to child abuse records
to ensure proper disclosures have been made.
Further, the balance between the family and child privacy and access can be improved.
Individual privacy protections can be maximized through the use of long-standing data privacy
protection principles (purpose and use limitations, data quality, individual participation, and
accountability). 218 Some of the state laws discussed in this Article already employ these
principles. 219 However, the implementation of these principles can be more standardized across
and within states. For example, some parties granted disclosure may be subject to purpose
limitations, while others are granted nearly unfettered access.
Accountability through public disclosure of these records also can be maximized. More
proactive reviews of the system using aggregate data and review panels would offer more
consistent assessment of the child welfare agencies. The use of dedicated review panels allows
ongoing, detailed review without undue disclosure.
A. Safeguarding Confidentiality Through Data Privacy Protection Principles
Irrespective of the number of categories of parties granted access, the analysis in this
Article illustrates that no two states offer the same level of confidentiality to children and
families in the child welfare system, as well as alleged abusers. To adequately protect the
sensitive information that can be contained in child abuse records, states should draw on key
principles of data privacy protection. Specifically, purpose and use limitations should be applied
limitations would require that data be gathered and used or shared only for the stated purpose,
such as when particular services are provided to a child. 220