KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Following months of requests by the 41 Action News Investigators, the Missouri Department of Social Services said Tuesday afternoon that it will make the child welfare records regarding two Kansas City children public.
A spokeswoman said the records of LP and Lucas Webb will both be released.
Officers discovered 10-year old LP locked in a closet on June 22, 2012. She was starving and covered in her own feces, and weighed only one-third of what children her age should weigh. Her mother and her mother's boyfriend were charged with child abuse.
Four-year-old Lucas Webb died from blunt force trauma to his abdomen on October 17, 2012. During the investigation, detectives learned Lucas had told an adult his stepmother, Melissa Webb, kicked him in the stomach with her foot.
Both Lucas's dad and stepmother have been charged in his death.
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The 41 Action News Investigators requested the records of these two children as well as the records of 8-year-old GW, who a social worker found locked in her bedroom, surrounded by urine.
The little girl reportedly told police she had been locked in the room for a month at a time, was not allowed to use the restroom and had not been fed regularly.
Missouri state law allows for the department to release records in child fatalities and near fatalities. However, the law also gives the director of the Department of Social Services the ultimate say on whether the records are released or not.
41 Action News sent its first request in October 2012. Despite correspondence by phone, email, and mail as well as our attorney, we have not received those records. The department has repeatedly denied our requests.
Christina Riehl, an attorney with the Children's Advocacy Institute in San Diego, said it is important for children for those records to be released.
"Without sunshine and light on what is going on, people don't know that change need to happen," Riehl said.
The institute reviews and ranks states for the openness of their child welfare systems.
The CAI gave Missouri law a B-minus. To see the report, go to http://bit.ly/QFyUfi
Riehl said the state received that ranking because Missouri law does allow for the release of information. However, the institute did downgrade its ranking to a B-minus because it feels the laws are not specific and allows the director discretion over which records are released.
"Unfortunately, the department is taking every opportunity to not release information," Riehl said after reviewing the correspondence between our attorney and the DSS.
Riehl said in 80 percent of child abuse deaths, the children had contact with social workers.
She said not releasing the records is a missed opportunity by Missouri to improve the system because the records not only alerts the public where the system is broken, but also allows the public to know what resources the system may need to do a better job protecting kids.
"When we are talking about children who died, we need to know what happened and why it happened so that we can save the next child," Riehl said.
A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Social Services told the 41 Action News the department expects to have the records of LP available by the end of the week.
She said the department was unsure when they would have the records of Lucas Webb ready.
The department has not yet made a decision about whether it will release the records of GW.