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Archive for Sunday, February 22, 2004

Lawmakers mull changes in reviews of child deaths

February 22, 2004

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A 19-month-old child's death in a Lawrence foster home last week has rekindled debate over how open the state should be with records it keeps on children in its care.

"In the wake of this child's death, all of us should be more than willing to find out what happened, to deal with the truth and to use the truth to motivate whatever changes are necessary," said state Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood.

It's easier said than done.

Adkins last year introduced a bill that would have opened now-confidential foster child-death investigations to public scrutiny.

He said he assumed his bill would be a slam dunk, but it died in conference committee after Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, argued it would harm innocent families.

"Let's say a child dies after he's been adopted," Landwehr said last week. "And let's say that I had tried to adopt that child but for whatever reason, it didn't work -- maybe I changed my mind, or I couldn't make it work financially, or somebody said I wasn't a fit parent.

"Now, I had absolutely nothing to do with that child's death, but the way that bill was written, everything that was in my file would have been public record," Landwehr said. "No way I was going to go along with that."

Politics, too, was a factor. Landwehr is a conservative and an ardent supporter of Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline. Adkins, a moderate, opposed Kline in a heated GOP primary in 2002.

This year, Adkins has introduced a bill requiring the state's Child Death Review Board to investigate the deaths of children in foster care within 60 days, after which all relevant records would be made public.

Landwehr says she'll introduce a bill that would put a committee of legislators, rather than the death review board, in charge of deciding which records would be made public.

Adkins said Landwehr's proposed committee would likely cause more problems than it would solve.

"There would be a risk of matters being overly politicized," he said.

But Adkins said he was committed to avoiding a repeat of last year's deadlock.

"I want to see us to move the ball forward," he said.

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