But the DHS is refusing to disclose more details citing a state statute that “Information on a pending [child maltreatment] investigation is confidential and may be disclosed only as provided in this section” — a section that does not include reporters or the general public.
Four children assigned to foster parents by the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) have died in recent months — a shocking number for a state that hasn't had a foster-child death since 2003.
The number came to light thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request to the agency from the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF).
But DHS has refused to release information about the nature of the deaths except to say that two of them are under investigation as maltreatment cases. Even after the State Police made an arrest in one of those cases on Aug. 11, DHS declined to comment further, citing a statute that prevents disclosure of ongoing department investigations.
Which raises the questions: When is DHS justified in withholding information about foster-child deaths? What sort of information should it be able to conceal? Is the public's need to know about the circumstances of the deaths outweighed by DHS's need to complete an investigation before putting details out in the open?
The Times asked DHS for basic information about the deaths: names if available, location and — most importantly — circumstances of death. What caused each child to die? What distinguishes a case that apparently involves child maltreatment from one that doesn't?