In 2008, new California legislation co-sponsored by NCYL granted public access to records of children who die from abuse or neglect. The law's goal is to help the public determine what, if anything, could be done differently to prevent such tragedies in the future, so that policies and practices of county child protective services may be improved. Since the law went into effect, NCYL has monitored its implementation.
More than 1,600 children in the US die at the hands of abusive parents and caretakers every year. Many of these deaths occur in homes that have already been investigated by child protective services. Until 2008, virtually all information about these children was kept secret, in theory to protect the privacy of children, parents, and foster parents. In practice, however, the secrecy also protected CPS from the evaluation and oversight routine in most civil service agencies.
In California, a coalition of groups led by NCYL has long advocated for legislation to mandate public access to CPS files of children who have died with the goal of determining what, if anything, could have been done differently to prevent such tragedies. In 2007, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 39, co-sponsored by NCYL and the Child Advocacy Institute.
SB 39 provides information about child abuse deaths in a three-stage process of disclosure. The first stage is the release of SOC 826 reports, initial, bare-bones reports that provide age, gender, and date of death for children who CPS reasonably suspects have died from abuse or neglect. Once CPS makes a final determination that a child has died from abuse or neglect, the next step is the release of information regarding the circumstances surrounding the death and past CPS investigations of the child's home. Finally, one can petition the dependency court for a child's entire court file.
Since the bill went into effect in 2008, NCYL has monitored how counties have implemented the law. In particular, NCYL, along with The Los Angeles Times, has worked to ensure compliance with the law in Los Angeles County, which has one of the largest foster child population in the country.