deficiencies. 228 Access to government information is essential to holding government agencies
accountable to the public, but the child and families’ right to privacy, which is essential to
autonomy and self-government, must also be considered. In an effort to balance these competing
interests, access to child-welfare records by independent citizen review panels would be the most
effective check on the state while still protecting the right to privacy. A majority of the states
already statutorily provide for disclosure to citizen review panels. 229
The panels, like the Blue Ribbon Panel convened in Florida in 2002, 230 review case files
periodically and publish reports to the public assessing the workings of the child welfare
agencies. These panels allow accountability to move beyond beyond the disposition data
contained in aggregate reports that are publicly available. Entrusted citizens gain access to
information contained in the full agency records, which generally would not be disclosed to the
public due to significant privacy and safety concerns (e.g., names of reporters, specific medical
information of the child, placement locations). This full access adds valuable data, such as
caseworker notes and emails, to the assessment of child protection activities and provides greater
context to the review process.
To receive value from this kind of review, states must create an adequate number of
review panels to allow for consistent and frequent evaluations of cases. Additionally, these
review panels should have unfettered access to case reports and records to ensure a robust review
of the investigative and treatment processes.
This Article analyzed the statutory requirements for safeguarding the confidentiality of
and access to child welfare records. As the Missouri media requests for records in the L.P. case
discussed in the beginning of this Article suggest, state agencies do not always follow the letter of
the law with information disclosure. To serve the confidentiality needs of families and the
public's general right to receive information, legislation and policies must emphasize limitation of
purpose and use, as well as increased efforts at aggregate reporting. Dedicated review panels
would take advantage of all of these measures and offer enhanced, ongoing oversight of child
This Article reviewed the state statutes for confidentiality provisions, as well as the
agencies’ discretion to disclose information from case records. In addition to providing greater
context for the recommendations provided in this Article, the data can be used to further
understand how information in child abuse records is being shared in practice by serving as the
foundation for information request audits. Audits reviewing how information requests are
handled by the state agencies in comparison with the obligations placed on and the discretion
granted to child protection agencies would likely provide a clearer picture of the measures
agencies are taking to effectively strike a balance between disclosure and confidentiality,
accountability and privacy.
228 See supra text accompanying notes 115, 163-164.
229 See supra text accompanying notes 155-166.