Robert V. Tobin, executive director or Cottage Housing Inc., a nonprofit organization serving homeless people in Sacramento, comments on the op ed page of the Sacramento Bee that the newspaper's coverage of a series of a children's deaths due to their natural or foster parents' savage abuse or astonishing neglect, suggesting serious failures in county child welfare services, wrongly faults the responsible officials for secrecy.
The purpose of confidentiality laws is not to obscure adolescents' identity from readers in Auburn or Yuba City or elsewhere The Bee sells newspapers. The Bee claims to honor these requirements by not revealing the young victim's name, but then reveals the child's age, gender, school, teacher, grade point average, extracurricular activities, ethnicity everything but her shoe size and astrology sign. If her classmates are unaware of her identity at this point, it's not for lack of publicity.
Really? While exposure to peer humiliation can't be a relished result, when it's compared to what can happen to these children in the "privacy" of their homes when welfare workers miss or misinterpret the signs of torment or gross negligence, the risk of shame seems a small and fleeting price to pay. The exposure of these case files to public scrutiny while the children are still alive and not, as the current law dictates, only upon their deathsand subject to the objection of the surviving implicated adultsis not an approach that has been tried and found wanting. It has never been tried.
And incidentally, if there is a case under the federal or state constitutions holding that the privacy rights of dependent wards of the juvenile court trump their rights to the rescuing attention of press or public, we'd like to know about it. So far as we are informed, the secrecy laws that child welfare officials and their apologists refer to as unalterable barriers to public awareness are simply matters of legislative graceor disgrace.