A new law aimed at exposing child deaths to public scrutiny has given Californians their most complete view yet of the toll of abuse and neglect but falls short of legislators’ intent and leaves many fatalities uncounted, says the Los Angeles Times. Known as Senate Bill 39, the 2008 law was largely intended to highlight systemic flaws in hopes of preventing other children’s deaths. More than a year after it took effect, however, it has shed limited light on how — and how many — children die of abuse and neglect.
The problem, in part, is that counties interpret the law’s requirements differently. Their views vary on what constitutes abuse or neglect and on what information is subject to disclosure. The Times filed public records requests with all 58 counties, and they in turn reported a total of 109 child deaths in 2008 caused by abuse or neglect. Some pending cases were later substantiated, bringing the statewide total to 114. One of the law’s sponsors, Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), said it has brought greater transparency to the child-welfare system, but she lamented that there still is a “lack of uniformity” in how the counties have responded.