(Nashville) Chancellor Carol McCoy ruled the Department of Children's Services must provide access to information regarding the fatalities and near fatalities of children in its care.
The ruling follows a petition by a dozen media outlets in Tennessee, including WREG, who sued for access to such records.
For the last several months, the On Your Side Investigators have been looking into child deaths in Shelby County.
WREG requested specific information from DCS regarding children who died in their care over the past three years.
We made the request after learning 31 children died in the first six months of 2012, who at some point had contact with the agency.
DCS sent us two, summaries of Shelby County fatalities from 2008-2012, but failed to provide details about the agency's involvement prior to the fatality.
On January 8, 2013, a hearing was held in Chancery Court in Nashville surrounding the case.
In the ruling Chancellor McCoy states, "...the court finds that upon a child's death DCS' reliance upon the strong public policy of client confidentiality in vitiated. No longer can the State protect or provide for the child, and then its efforts or lack thereof become a key concern."
Chancellor McCoy goes on to say the court finds that DCS records regarding the deaths or near-deaths of children in DCS care "are subject to the Public Records Act."
However, confidential information such as the identity of the child, family, relatives as well as those involved in caring for the child should be kept confidential.
DCS has 10 days to provide redacted forms for, four files used as examples in the case.
The court also ordered the agency to provide an estimate of how much it would cost to redact confidential information from requested files dating back to 2009.
Governor Bill Haslam issued a statement after the ruling, "We are currently reviewing the full decision, but it appears that the Court agrees with the state about how important our confidentiality laws are."
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