By Anne Lowe

OPEN GOVERNMENT -- An Independent audit released Monday found that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has often failed publicly to report child deaths related to abuse or neglect, which is a violation of a state law effective in 2008.

SB 39 requires state and local agencies to disclose information on child deaths stemming from abuse or neglect. The report issued by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review found several challenges impeding the ability of Los Angeles County to release the information, and at least 14 cases were identified in the report as being withheld from requesters in 2009.
The Los Angeles Times reports:

In the audit, Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the Office of Independent Review, noted a dramatic change last year in the amount of information released by the department, with disclosure in only four of 18 cases. Gennaco said the pattern has extended into 2010. The Times has been denied in repeated public records requests for information.?? (SB 39) requires release of numerous records in such cases unless doing so would jeopardize a criminal investigation. Gennaco found that child welfare officials were asking law enforcement agencies to object to the release of documents before investigators had the chance to review the case files. The effect has been blanket objections to disclosure that resulted in "a virtual paralysis of the statute's intent."

The report found three main challenges  responding to requests for SB 39 information: First, interpreting what case qualifies as a child’s death from abuse or neglect has negatively affected the release of information; second, law enforcement has the right to place “blanket holds” on information if releasing it would hinder an investigation (as was the case in 13 of the 14 cases identified in the report); and third, the department had limited staff to process the requests for information.