Before I was hired to work at Health Forward I was the Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services. This Department was responsible for over 11,000 children who were in foster care in the state of Missouri. Based upon my experience in Jefferson City, I find it particularly troubling that on February 10th the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Serves (SRS) has instituted a new policy to share sensitive information.
The new policy allows biological parents to sign a form that gives state legislators unrestricted access to information regarding child custody cases that, heretofore, have been considered confidential and viewed only by SRS workers and the courts. Now legislators, in turn, are free to share the file’s contents with whomever they deem appropriate. Prior to this recent change, a parent could sign a form giving SRS officials permission to verbally discuss a family’s case with legislators –but no files or documents were turned over to legislators.
This new policy in my judgment goes over the boundary of common sense. Case files contain very detailed and private information not only about the child in state custody but also about other members of the family and folks who live with the family. If these files get in the wrong hands or are used for political purposes much damage could be done to the family that is already going through difficult times. Why would an untrained legislator need to see the all the case files to make a “political statement” about the case after trained social workers, judges and juvenile officers have reviewed the information?
In Missouri, the Director of the Department of Social Services has the option of turning over redacted case files if requested by the media when a child has died while in state custody. I was the first Director to actually agree to do this after I received a court order that allowed me to redact information that I thought could be harmful to siblings and did not pertain to the child in state custody. When the KC Star and other news outlets reported on these cases, the stories were overwhelming sympathetic and supportive of the decisions made by professionally trained staff.
Clearly state workers, juvenile officers and judges can make mistakes and that is why parents and family, advocates, ombudsmen, supervisors, and legislators have a right to question decisions and ask for a review. The legislator’s role is to adopt policy that protects the child rather than to make decisions on individual cases…Please leave this up to the professionals!