Four dozen children who nearly died because of severe neglect or abuse are named in publicly available reports on the Department of Child Safety’s website, even though state law prohibits it.
Keeping children’s names private recognizes that they are victims and is intended to protect them from further trauma and possible stigma.
One adoptive mother said she was shocked to see her child’s name appear while doing Google searches for the birth mother’s name. She shared her finding with friend and attorney Veda Collmer, who raised the issue with DCS in October, asking the agency to take down the report or black out the child’s name.
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“Anyone who knows the child could identify him from the report,” said Collmer. The report uses the child’s first name only, but, Collmer said, it is an unusual name. In addition, the report contains details that could easily trace back to the child and his family.
A month after her first contact with DCS, Collmer said she was told in mid-November that the matter had been referred to attorneys.
DCS carefully guards the privacy of children who become involved in the foster-care system due to either neglect or abuse. The agency has posted photos of foster children with their faces blurred out and has admonished news organizations that have published or aired photos of foster children.
DCS: Child-welfare cases are private. Does that protect the kids, or the state officials?
The Republic examined the files found by Collmer’s friend, and counted 46 other instances in which children were identified by their first name in abuse and neglect cases. The practice appears to have ended in mid-2015, when a new state law took effect that masked the children’s names.
DCS spokesman Darren DaRonco said the 2015 legislation changed the way reports are formatted. But he could not immediately comment on why the older reports with names listed were still publicly available.
He said the matter had been referred to the agency’s attorneys.
The Republic filed a public records request for agency guidance on how it is dealing with the older reports, but has not received a response.
To Collmer, the solution is simple and the agency’s lack of action is troubling.
“At the very least, (it’s easy) to go back and remove the names of the children who have survived,” she said. “They still have a right to privacy. They were victims. They should have the right to disclose this if they want.”
She followed up with DCS three times and all she knows is that the matter has been referred to attorneys.
“There is a risk that this could invade the child’s privacy,” Collmer said. “And the family is concerned that private details about his life are publicly available on the internet.”
The law that requires disclosures about severe cases of neglect and abuse is a balancing act between transparency and the privacy rights of the surviving child and his or her parents, then-state Rep. Kate Brophy McGee said in 2015, when the law was amended.
That law, among other things, ended the practice of listing the first names of children who had survived severe abuse or neglect. But it made no reference to redacting records that existed before the law took effect.
Collmer said she’s considering other options if she can’t get DCS to act.
“If nothing happens and the report is still available, I’m going to seek an injunction or get in front of the Legislature,” she said.
The public, she believes, would be concerned to know that troubling details about a child’s victimization are available for all to see.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Law requires kids’ names be kept private in abuse and neglect cases. But four dozen exceptions are a Google search away