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Report Finds ‘Culture Of Secrecy’ In Child Abuse Disclosure Laws

Christina Riehl, an attorney for the Children's Advocacy Institute, talks to KPBS about the new report.

A new report from the Children's Advocacy Institute and University of San Diego says there is a "culture of secrecy" in states' disclosure laws, which hides information about child abuse deaths and near-deaths.

Christina Riehl, an attorney with the institute, spoke to KPBS about the report. She said child welfare has a need for secrecy to protect children, and "that is where the culture starts."

But, she said, "when it comes to fatalities or near-fatalities that come from child abuse, that need for secrecy diminishes."

The 2012 “State Secrecy and Child Deaths in the U.S.” report was released April 17. It gave letter grades to states based on an analysis of child death and near-death disclosure laws and policies.

California received a C+, down from an A- in 2008, the first year the report was released.

The state's statutes have not changed at all, but the Department of Social Services has released regulations to implement those statutes that decrease the opportunities for the release of information, Riehl said.

Riehl said counties follow the state's lead, so if California does not require the release of information, San Diego County will not release it.

"At a county level, if we're not looking at what happened, we don't know how to fix it," she said. "So the chance of more children dying in San Diego is great."

Riehl said the institute filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court against these new regulations. The litigation is ongoing.

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