When a child dies, it is a tragedy that touches the family, their friends and the community as a whole. When the death is a result of an accident, abuse or neglect, those involved often ask themselves if something could have been done to prevent this senseless loss of life.
Throughout the country, Child Death Review (CDR) teams look at the circumstances surrounding a child’s death to learn if the death could have been prevented. This process allows individuals to gain a better understanding of the risk factors and circumstances influencing child deaths, and helps to develop policies that will aid in preventing future deaths.
I am introducing a bill that would establish in state law the existing practice of local CDR teams, establish a state CDR Council and clarify procedures for the CDR teams.
Child Death Review teams were first formed in the mid-1990s by local leaders and often focused on child abuse deaths. In 1998, the Wisconsin Department of Justice formed a Child Death Review Council to address policies that could prevent child deaths. In 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services began working with the Children’s Health Alliance, a non-profit organization, to establish a statewide system of CDR panels.
Since that time, the Children’s Health Alliance has received a number of grants from the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Medicine and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to improve the CDR process.
Wisconsin is one of only seven states without comprehensive CDR legislation. In our state, there are 48 CDR teams covering 51 counties and 90 percent of the state’s population. This legislation would provide local CDR teams with assistance from the state CDR Council and would address issues with access to information, confidentiality and the open meetings/open records laws.
The legislation would also recognize the work of local CDR teams, allowing best-practices to be shared throughout the state.
CDR teams are multi-disciplinary teams made up of public health officials, law enforcement, medical professionals and others. These teams share and discuss the causes, circumstances, and issues surrounding the deaths of children. My bill would resolve barriers confronting local CDR teams by allowing them to access the information and relevant records they need to conduct reviews like vital records, medical and mental health information, child welfare reports, law enforcement (with expectations for pending investigations), and school records.
To be effective, CDR teams need to be able to discuss sensitive information without fear that their discussions will become public or that the identity of individual children will be released. The bill would protect confidential information shared at CDR team meetings by including a provision in the law that says that all CDR information and records are confidential, that the information is not subject to subpoena or discovery, and by creating a penalty for those who intentionally violate the confidentiality portion.
The bill would also allow teams to meet in closed session under the open meetings law when they are reviewing cases to ensure that the sensitive information shared remains private.
The CDR process is not designed to second-guess agency policies or critique individual performance. It is designed to look at system issues and discover ways to prevent child deaths.
I will be introducing this bill shortly with the hope that it can be taken up by the legislature in our spring session.