West Virginia's policy on public disclosure of child abuse and neglect cases is "vague and unclear," a national advocacy organization reported last week. That needs to change.
State laws on reporting of child abuse and neglect are good in some ways, but not specific enough in others, according to a national report by the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego. For example, though the law requires release of information when children die of abuse or neglect, it does not specify what facts are to be made available to the public.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services defended some secrecy, saying it is intended to protect the children involved. But as the institute pointed out, that defense makes no sense in situations where children die from abuse or neglect.
While our state has found ways to reduce abuse and neglect of children dramatically during recent years, it still is too common. According to the Kids Count organization, 17.6 of every 1,000 children in the state are victims of abuse or neglect. That is nearly twice the national rate.
Agencies that refuse to make public information about child abuse and neglect - including names of perpetrators - risk being accused of attempting to cover up their own failures. Given the number of such lapses we hear about, that is not an unreasonable assumption.
If child abuse and neglect is to be curbed, the public needs to know about it. That should be the core of state policy.