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2001 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 6, No. 3
June 2001

Child Fatalities and the NC Public Records Law

If DSS or any other state agency was involved with the child's family, recent changes in state law require that the agency disclose to the public, upon request, its findings and information related to the fatality (NCGS § 2902, the North Carolina Public Records Law). The law also applies to near-fatalities.

If a child has died from suspected abuse, neglect, or maltreatment, and a suspect has been charged, the agency must disclose a written statement of actions taken or services rendered following receipt of information that the child might be in need of protection. The agency may withhold information if the local district attorney believes that release of the information would:

1. Potentially harm a child still residing in the home where a child died,

2. Jeopardize the defendant's right to a fair trial, or

3. Jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation.

The summary should include the dates, outcomes, and results of any actions taken or services rendered.

It may include results of any review by the State Child Fatality Prevention Team, a local Child Fatality Prevention Team, a local Community Child Protection Team, the Child Fatality Task Force, or any public agency. It can also include confirmation of the receipt of all reports, accepted or not accepted by the county DSS, for investigation of suspected child abuse, neglect, or dependency, including confirmation that investigations were conducted, the results of the investigations, a description of the conduct of the most recent investigation and the services rendered, and a statement of basis for the department's decision.

No information may be released relating to any psychiatric, psychological, or therapeutic evaluations or like materials or information pertaining to the child or the child's family unless directly related to the cause of the child fatality or near fatality. In addition, no information may be released that might reveal the identities of persons who provided information related to the suspected abuse, neglect, or maltreatment of the child (NCGS § 7B-2902).

The agency must provide the report within five working days of when the request was submitted.

All the North Carolina general statutes are available on the Internet (see <http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/statutes/statutes_in_html/chp007b.html> ). They can also be found in the appendices of your agency's copy of Not Invisible, Not in Vain. Having a copy of N.C.G.S. Chapter 7B in your office is a good idea.

Source: Cook, E. G. & Post, R. (2001). Newspapers. In M. Herman-Giddens and J. H. Haggerty (Eds.), Nor Invisible, Not in Vain, pp. 195-202. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute.