California law makes records of children's deaths public

Published: Monday, Dec. 26, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 14A

The Bee gained access to Yeinira Melchor's child welfare file through a statute the Legislature passed in 2006 that made records public when children die as a result of abuse or neglect.

In Yeinira's case, Sacramento County Child Protective Services provided two versions of the child's case file requested by The Bee.

The first file tells how the 2-year-old died after having seizures in 2009, but omits the long history the girl and her family had with CPS. The history is contained in a file the agency provided after The Bee requested it a second time.

County officials say the initial failure to disclose information was a mistake. But it wasn't the first time CPS has provided conflicting information in a child fatality case.

In 2008, after the beating death of 4-year-old Jahmaurae Allen, the agency released a report stating that it had substantiated an earlier allegation of abuse involving the boy. Revealed later was that the social worker handling the case actually had dismissed the allegation, which was reported by a doctor.

At the time, CPS officials said the change to the file wasn't meant as a cover-up, but reflected a different judgment by another employee.

CPS agencies in Sacramento and other counties have mixed records when it comes to complying with the 2007 law, said senior counsels for the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland and the Children's Advocacy Institute in San Diego.

Los Angeles County has refused to comply with requests made under the law by the California State Auditor and the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper recently sued the county over the issue, while the auditor was forced to leave the county out of a recent report on CPS agencies.

Two years ago, the National Youth Law Center asked 12 counties to provide basic records required under the law. Several counties replied promptly, but others required repeated requests and Riverside County refused to comply at all, the center said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Brad Branan



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