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Would you be surprised to know that Missouri counties are required to probe each death of a child, but — because the data is kept secret — it’s not being used to prevent future fatalities?

Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, does it?

Fortunately, Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, is looking to change state law to allow greater access to these child fatality reports.

She recently told a Senate committee that about 1,000 children died each year in Missouri, but current law requires that information generated about the deaths through required child fatality review panels “shall not be open to the general public except for the annual report.”

That hampers the state’s ability to use the data to prevent such deaths in the future, she said.

As we reported last week, Riddle’s bill would “update the confidentiality requirements of the local and the state panels, so that information from the panels can be used to inform and prevent future fatalities,” she said. “Currently, the confidentiality threshold is so high that the department cannot even release any non-identifiable aggregate data.”

Emily van Schenkhof, who heads Missouri’s Children’s Trust Fund, spoke in favor of the bill, saying it took her three months to get even general data from the Missouri Department of Social Services. She had to sign an affidavit pledging to not share the data. “So, I can’t show you what I’ve learned about places that have higher (death) rates,” she said.

Riddle’s bill would allow Social Services to make non-identifiable aggregate data publicly available. Identifiable data would be made available at the discretion of the department’s director. The law change would mirror the confidentiality standard already used in the Missouri Children’s Division, she said.

“We owe it to our children to do everything we can to learn from and prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future,” she said.

We agree.

The measure has the potential to use data in a way that could save lives, while still protecting sensitive information. We urge lawmakers to approve it.

News Tribune

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