An open-and-shut case
Dependency courts, where cases of child abuse and neglect are heard, should be open to the public.
December 19, 2010
Los Angeles Times
The problems of Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services are too numerous to list and too serious to ignore. County supervisors addressed one last week by moving aside the head of the troubled agency. Those that remain range from uneven and onerous caseloads to technological limitations to inexperienced workers handling delicate matters beyond their capacity. Compounding all of those issues, however, is one problem that can and should be fixed: Dependency courts, where cases of child abuse and neglect are heard, should be open to the public.
Some may regard it as unsurprising that a newspaper would favor open judicial proceedings, and in one sense it is: We do generally believe that the public's interests are most reliably served when records and actions of government agencies, including courts, are subject to scrutiny by the media and the public. But this proposal for openness is not special pleading by the media. Already, juvenile and dependency hearings may be open if the presiding officer concludes there are compelling public interests in lifting the presumption of secrecy. Because news organizations are the rare institution with both resources and interest in openness, many of those cases that journalists seek to observe are opened.
That leaves others out, however, including child welfare advocates, interested parties and those who simply want to see justice done, but lack the knowledge or money to hire lawyers and fight their way into court. FULL STORY